How to improve your brain health – and avoid Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia

12. Book in for an online yoga session and breathe correctly

Pranayama breathing will oxygenate your brain and clear your nasal passages. A 2021 study on the effect of oral breathing on cognitive activity showed that the functional connection decreased a significant amount during a working memory task in oral breathing rather than nasal breathing.

Similarly, did you know that meditating lights up your frontal lobes – the area for problem solving and impulse control – and develops the areas of the brain related to attention and sensory processing? Meditators have higher volumes of brain tissue, reduced brain inflammation, well balanced neurotransmitters and less stress.

13. Stimulate your tongue

The tongue is where two of the most important meridians in the body meet. Brain fog and memory issues can be treated by boosting energy flow in the area with a series of acupuncture sessions. Stimulating the tongue with an electric pulse has also been shown to activate the neural network in the brain in charge of balance, and can help multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and stroke patients improve their muscle control.

14. Train to be less absent minded

Do you ever find yourself doing something completely absent-minded? You pour cold water in your tea after forgetting to turn the kettle on? You start scrolling through Twitter and forget to pick the kids up from school?

These are what cognitive scientists would call ‘lapses in executive function’. Executive function is the ability to consciously control our thoughts, emotions, and actions to achieve our goals. It’s basically the exact opposite of being absent-minded.

Having strong executive function is important to our lives because those who have it are generally more switched on, and research has shown it can be an indicator of good social skills, academic achievement, mental and physical health, making money, saving money and even staying out of jail.

So researchers are keen to understand how we can improve our executive function. The more they learn, the more difficult they understand it to be. For example, if you do a lot of puzzles, you might be very focused when you solve puzzles, but it doesn’t necessarily make you any less prone to absent-mindedness in the real world.

Speaking in a TEDx Talk in 2018, cognitive scientist Sabine Doebel shared her findings that executive function could be affected by context. In her experiments, she invited children to complete delayed gratification tests: either they could have one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. Some waited, others didn’t.

Then she told the kids that they were on a certain team and their team (who they’d never met) was either more or less likely to wait. She found that the results skewed to match the fictional odds of the team. And the kids on the team more likely to wait used more executive function strategies to help them wait.

This led Doebel to the conclusion that you can improve executive function with context. If you want to focus while learning something, surround yourself with others doing the same. Or teach yourself strategies to use executive function in the particular context of what you’re doing, like putting your phone away before reading, or performing a certain action every time before practicing a skill.

15. Experiment with light therapy

The Vielight 810 is a small machine that attaches to your nose and sends a near infrared light up into your brain, pulsing at 10 Hz, the frequency that repairs brain cells and neural networks. Photons of light go deep into the brain’s ventral areas where dopamine, which controls sleep, is made, and also triggering the release of serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter.

16. Learn to Cross Crawl

Cross Crawl exercises use opposite sides of the body. For example, on all fours lift your right arm and left leg, then reverse. Exercises like this strengthen communication signals between your body and brain, boosting brain function in the process. The movement fires up neural pathways in the right and left side of your brain at the same time, building a connective path between the two sides of the brain and boosting clarity of thought, focus and spatial awareness.

Like paying regular installations into your pension scheme, adding ‘Brain Gym’ time into your weekly schedule is an essential long-term investment in your future; top up your hours, little by little, and you can relax in your retirement, reaping the benefits of your earlier efforts when you most need them.

17. Change your diet

Research published in 2021 by Harvard University Medical School found that certain foods are linked to better brain power. While it is important to stress that there is no fast-track method to prevent cognitive decline nor any magic food that can boost brain health, following a healthy diet of green, leafy vegetables; fatty fish; berries and walnuts is your best strategy of keeping your brain sharp as you age.

Leafy greens contain healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene which can help slow down cognitive decline, while flavonoids found in berries can help improve memory.

Fatty fish are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid which is the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Walnuts, on the other hand, are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which also lower blood pressure and keep arteries clean.

Additionally, you need to start eating a brainy breakfast. Breakfast has long been dubbed the most important meal of the day, and with good reason.

According to Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals, people who eat breakfast are more alert and perform better in tests than people who skip it. This is because eating breakfast elevates blood glucose levels which, in turn, helps the brain function more efficiently.

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