We all want to think better. Whether your motivation is to be sharper at work or ward off age-related cognitive decline, we’re asked two of Canada’s wellness experts to recommend lifestyle changes proven to boost our brain power.
Heart & Mind Matters
Healthy blood flow helps the brain function better. When the blood vessels in your brain don’t get the oxygen they need, thinking or memory problems can occur. So, to help your brain, start by helping your heart and circulation. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, there are five levers we can pull to make this happen, and they’re the usual suspects:
- Eat well
- Stay active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking (or don’t start!)
- Manage stress
But what does “eating well” actually mean when we talk about brain health? According to Toronto-based naturopath Dr. Kristin Heins, the key is to focus on foods that decrease inflammation and act as antioxidants to optimize brain function.
Here are Dr. Heins’ “Brain Power Five”:
- Fatty fish like salmon, trout and sardines
Over half our brain is essentially fat, so diets higher in healthy fats are ideal. Fatty fish is especially high in omega 3 fatty acids and DHA—proven brain fuel which are associated with improved cognition.
This powerful antioxidant spice contains the active compound curcumin and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Studies show that turmeric has the ability to cross the blood-brain-barrier.
- Blueberries/ dark coloured berries
These berries are powerful antioxidants and also low in sugar.
- Pumpkin seeds
Nuts and seeds in general nourish the brain but pumpkin seeds, in particular, are high in zinc and magnesium both essential for optimal nerve function.
- Dark chocolate
Yeah! Dark cocoa contains less sugar than milk chocolate and also has omega 3 fatty acids and DHA, along with small amounts of caffeine which boosts cognition. Find your optimal of these stimulants in order to avoid getting the jitters than can interfere with concentration and cause anxiety.
Crosswords and Sudoko are fun pastimes, but on their own they won’t improve your memory and cognition. “Essentially, you are doing the same exercise over and over and working the same part of the brain,” says Annette Vezina, co-manager of wellness at the Montreal Cummings Centre. Vezina, who runs brain training and fitness programs for seniors, emphasizes the importance of varied exercises for brain stimulation.
To change up your crossword habit, Vezina recommends these books for ideas:
- The Complete Brain Workout – Marcel Danesi, PhD
- Brainpower Game Plan – Cynthia R. Green, PhD
- Beef Up your Brain – Michel Noir, PhD & Bernard Croisile, MD
- Brain Bustine, Mind Twisting, IQ Crushing Puzzles – Frank Coussement & Peter de Schepper
What about all the online games, apps and training tools like Luminosity that claim to make us smarter and boost our memory? Do they work? According to 69 of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists and the Stanford Centre for Longevity, claims promoting brain boosting are frequently exaggerated and, at times, misleading. So far, there is no compelling evidence that brain games offer a scientifically proven way to reduce or reverse cognitive decline.
Please Don’t Stop the Music
Albert Einstein rarely went anywhere without his violin. He once said, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
Music may have been a sideline for Einstein, but recent research from Simon Landry and Francois Champoux at the University of Montreal, revealed that musical training helps you respond better to multi-sensory stimuli and integrate inputs from various senses. As a result, musicians have faster reaction times. So, pick up that violin, guitar or flute and make some music!
Brain Spa = Bedtime
There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep. Not only do you feel great but sleeping repairs your brain. A neuroscience research team from Brown University found that brainwaves consolidate learning while you sleep. Essentially, you get smarter as you sleep, so treat your brain to naps and regular, uninterrupted sleep to help it repair, recover, and regenerate its awesome power.