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Protecting Your Brain Health

Organization: Erin Falco RDN, Inc.

Authors: Veronica Rechten MSc

Publish Date: 5/1/23


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Your brain is sometimes referred to as the “control center” of your body. Beyond helping you to think and remember clearly, your brain helps to regulate the rest of your body, like your breathing, temperature, hunger, and hormones. It’s important to keep your brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible.


Your brain’s health is influenced by six fundamental pillars:

  • Exercise & joyful movement

  • Food & nutrition

  • Stress reduction

  • Sleep and relaxation

  • Socialization

  • Medication & Supplementation

 

Joyful Movement


Exercise is incredibly beneficial for physical and mental fitness, to de-stress, improve sleep, as well as keep your heart, lungs, and muscles healthy. What’s more, being physically active is a fundamental pillar of brain health. Finding an exercise that feels like “joyful movement” - something you enjoy doing - will help you to make it a daily habit in your life.


Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio” or “endurance” exercise, helps to get your heart rate up and your muscles warm. Examples of aerobic exercises include biking, swimming, brisk walks, or dancing. This type of exercise benefits your brain because it helps to preserve existing brain cells and also promotes the growth of new ones.


Strength training with extra weight, body weight, or even carrying kids around, helps enhance your concentration and improve decision-making skills.

 

Food & Nutrition


There are several foods and nutrients that promote a healthy brain by slowing cognitive decline and reducing your risk of neurological disorders.

Let’s go through a few of the key foods and nutrients to boost your brain health.


Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that promote heart and brain health. Some of the best sources of omega-3s are fatty fish such as: salmon, herring, and sardines. If you don’t love fish, omega-3s are also found in nuts and seeds such as flax, chia, walnuts, and soy. You can mix a tablespoon of flax meal into almost any dish and never know it’s there! You can also supplement with a high quality fish oil. You can find one here.


Plant foods

Plants contain more than vitamins and minerals, they’re also a source of fiber and antioxidant phytochemicals.


Some of the top plants for brain health are: deeply-colored fruits and vegetables like berries, leafy greens, and broccoli. It’s recommended to try to have vegetables every day, at least six servings of greens each week, and at least two servings of berries each week. Try adding berries to salads or smoothies, drink some green tea, and throw some extra veggies into soups, or pastas. Remember: frozen is fine!


Spices and chocolate

Good news for chocolate lovers! Spices and dark chocolate contain antioxidants called flavonoids. These compounds can help improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. These can be found in high amounts in turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and dark and unsweetened chocolate. Try some cinnamon in homemade hot cocoa, or add ginger and turmeric to sauces and smoothies.


Whole grains

Whole grains like oats and quinoa are rich in brain-healthy B-vitamins and fiber. B-vitamins are essential so that the brain can create energy, repair DNA, maintain the proper structure of neurons (nerve/brain cells), and create essential neurochemicals for optimal function. B-vitamins also act as antioxidants to reduce the harmful effects of free radicals that can damage brain cells (or any cells). Try some oatmeal with fruit and cinnamon for breakfast, and some quinoa or buckwheat with your chicken and veggies.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine” vitamin because your skin makes it when it’s exposed to the sun. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risks for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. You can increase your vitamin D levels by going in the sun for 5-15 minutes three times a week. You may need slightly more time if you have darker skin or live in a more northern latitude. Try not to get too much sun without sunscreen as it can increase your risk for skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements are also a great way to make sure your body is getting and absorbing enough vitamin D. We recommend D3 with K2 to assist in absorption.

 


Stress Reduction:


We all experience stress. Stress is how the body and brain react to a threat or demand (or “stressor”). These reactions are often called “fight or flight.” They include increased heart rate and breathing and a heightened sense of focus. All of these physiological reactions are initiated by the brain when it detects the stressor.


Once the threat is gone, the stress response relaxes and your body and brain can regain their normal (“low/no stress”) balance. However, sometimes that stress lingers on for days, weeks, and months (or longer) and becomes long-term or “chronic” stress. It’s this chronic stress that can negatively impact your brain.


While stress cannot be eliminated entirely, you can learn effective techniques to better manage it and preserve your brain health. One very practical—but often difficult—strategy is to “just say no” to things you don’t actually have to do. Turning down unnecessary opportunities to take on more responsibility may help reduce the amount of stress you feel.


Another strategy to reduce stress is to focus on the specific problem at hand in the present moment. This can help you see the current situation more clearly and make better decisions, to avoid turning it into an unmanageably large issue or perceiving the situation to be more difficult than it has to be.


Finally, calming the mind through meditation or guided imagery can help reduce the feelings of stress by refocusing your attention on something positive and soothing. You can try meditation apps, a gratitude journal, joyful movement, aroma therapy, breathing techniques, or even just getting out into nature!

 


Sleep:


Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night helps your mood and ability to manage stress. Sleep also allows you to be better able to plan and run your busy life and ensure that you can have the energy to do what you need to do to maintain and improve your well-being.


One of the most important things you can do to get enough sleep is to strive for a regular sleep schedule. By going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day—including weekends and when you’re traveling—you “train” your body and brain to get on a healthy sleep schedule.


Another strategy to help you get more sleep is to create a relaxing bedtime routine. That routine can start an hour (or more) before you need to sleep and can include things like dimming lights, putting your screens away (blue light from screens can disrupt your circadian rhythm), listening to soothing music or reading a book, or having a warm bath with essential oils and epsom salts to relax muscles and soothe nerves.


Whatever helps you get your sleep is going to also help your brain.

 


Socialization:


Staying connected to a network of people you care about can help reduce stress, improve mood, and help to feel more supported in life. Your social network can include your spouse and/or partner, immediate and extended family members, friends, or others in your community.


You can socialize informally or spontaneously (like walking or chatting with a neighbor) or you can join organized activities like hobby groups, sports teams, or volunteering opportunities. The brain benefits of socializing even extend beyond people to pets. Studies show that pets can help you feel calm, improve your health, and enhance your social life, all of which can benefit your brain.

 

Note on Conditions & Medications

Certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline (reduced memory and ability to think). There are also medications when, taken for prolonged lengths of time, may also contribute to negative changes in brain health.


Be sure to speak to your dietitian for assistance in assessing and treating/preventing these conditions, and to see if it is possible to reduce or eliminate certain medications. Never abruptly stop taking medications unless under the guidance of your doctor.

 

Final Thoughts

There are many things you can do to bolster your brain health. They include a number of healthy habits such as getting exercise, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, socializing with others (or with pets), and following recommendations for medications and supplements. When it comes to food and nutrition for brain health, try to get enough omega-3s, more plants, spices and chocolate, tea, and vitamin D.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can implement these six essential brain health strategies into your life, contact us for a discovery call..

 

References

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2017, April 18). Controlling risk factors for brain disease.https://healthybrains.org/controlling-risk-factors-brain-disease/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2017, May 18). Exercise benefits the brain too. https://healthybrains.org/exercising-benefits-brain/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2018, April 6). Shining a light on vitamin D. https://healthybrains.org/shining-a-light-on-vitamin-d/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). 6 pillars of brain health. https://healthybrains.org/pillars/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). Food & nutrition. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-nutrition/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). Medical health. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-medical/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021). Sleep & relaxation. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-sleep/

Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (2021) Social interaction. https://healthybrains.org/pillar-social/

Dhana, K., James, B. D., Agarwal, P., Aggarwal, N. T., Cherian, L. J., Leurgans, S. E., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Schneider, J. A. (2021). MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD, 83(2), 683–692. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-210107

Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068

 

If you need more nutritional support, visit us at www.erinfalcordn.com for more posts, recipes and webinars, or contact us for a discovery call to become a patient.






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