If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how you can support your cognitive function, you’re not alone. Maintaining our cognitive health as we age is key to quality of life, and considering that around the globe, 55 million people are living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, this topic hits home for many. In honor of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, Gennev’s Registered Dietitians share their 10 tips to help boost your brain health.
One of the most vital nutrients for our brain’s health is omega 3 fatty acids, as it may slow age-related mental decline and support prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. This healthy fat source cannot be made in the body and must come from dietary sources. If you enjoy seafood, aim for two 3 oz. servings of cold-water fish per week to meet your omega 3 needs. Fish can be easy to prepare from scratch - try this salmon veggie sheet pan recipe. You can also stock up on quality canned salmon or tuna (Wild Planet and Safe Catch are recommended brands due to their high quality and sustainability standards) to pair with veggies and crackers for a quick and easy lunch. And of course, supplementation is an option. Gennev's Glow supplement is an easy way to get in your omega 3’s throughout the week.
If you don’t eat seafood and supplements aren’t for you, aim for plant-based sources such as ground flax, chia seeds or walnuts on a regular basis. These can be added to oatmeal, smoothies or sprinkled on salads.
Building and maintaining strong social bonds is supportive for our overall brain health. And, studies have shown that loneliness may increase the risk of cognitive decline in older adults. Those who stay engaged with others appear to exercise their neural pathways in a way that protects them against cognitive decline with aging. Staying socially connected can look different for everyone - it may involve close friendships, romantic relationships, or being part of a group with a shared interest. Looking to increase your social connectedness? Consider becoming part of a walking group, starting a weekly get-together at a local coffee shop with friends, or joining a book club.
Prioritizing sleep is key for brain health, and most adults need between 7 to 8 hours a night to maintain optimal cognitive function. This can be challenging if sleep is a struggle due to stress, hormonal changes or other factors. Gennev’s Women's Guide to a Good Night's Sleep in Menopause offers insight on how you can find solutions for optimizing sleep despite hormonal changes.
A core principle of the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet) is to include vegetables throughout the day. This diet was designed to reduce the risk of dementia and loss of brain function as you age. Get started by challenging yourself to make ½ of your plate veggies that you enjoy at mealtime.
Individuals who possess an optimistic mindset, positive attitude, life satisfaction and increased purpose in life are at a reduced risk of developing dementia. Keeping a mindfulness practice such gratitude journaling can support boosting optimism and increase sense of well-being. This can be practiced by writing down a few things you are grateful for each day. Other ideas to boost optimism include positive self-talk, spending time with positive people (positivity is contagious!), and making sure to laugh on a regular basis.
Research shows that exercise increases our levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), the compound that promotes the formation of new neural networks. Focus on what exercise you enjoy most, and don’t be afraid to start small. Walking, biking and swimming are all great choices. Get creative and go for a walk as you explore a new part of a local town or city you live in or visit a new park or hiking trail to include the added benefit of spending time in nature, which also is supportive of our cognitive function. Other ideas include trying a rock-climbing gym or even going snow shoeing if you live in a cold environment. Any type of increased movement is helpful- this could even be as simple as taking the stairs at work, or parking further away at the grocery store.
Even mild dehydration can affect our cognitive function. In her book Brain Food, neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi states that even mild dehydration can trigger cognitive issues such as brain fog. Water helps to increase blood flow to the brain, and therefore supports cognition. We recommend consuming half your body weight in ounces of water each day. And if you are sweating often from hot flashes, exercise, or being in a warm climate, you may need even more water.
Think of cognitively stimulating activities as exercise for the brain. When we keep our brain stimulated on a regular basis, we are supporting a reduced risk of cognitive impairment as we age. Research shows that board games, crossword puzzles or brain games online, when practiced consistently, are supportive for optimizing cognitive function. Staying cognitively stimulated doesn’t have to be limited to games. It can also include reading, learning new things, painting, drawing or playing musical instruments -just to name a few.
These days, so many of us experience a high level of stress on a regular basis. Menopause itself can be stressful! Stressors will happen, but it’s the chronic, long-term stress that can have a major impact on cognition. Evaluate ways to minimize your daily stressors as much as possible. This will look different for everyone, as each person’s situation is unique. Ideas include limiting phone use and screen time, practicing self-care activities such as stretching before bed, getting a massage, pursuing a hobby or reading a good book, and creating boundaries- learn to say ‘no’ as appropriate. If this is a significant struggle for you, seek help from your physician, or a mental health provider for additional support.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is crucial for memory formation. Its deficiency is associated with memory deficit, making it important to prioritize this nutrient. Research has found that those with adequate choline intake have greater performance on cognitive tests assessing sensory motor speed, perceptual speed, executive function and global cognition. Sources of choline include eggs, seafood, liver, and certain vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Boost your choline in your daily meals by enjoying an egg scramble, include roasted broccoli with your dinner meal, or enjoy salmon on a salad at lunch time.
A healthy lifestyle is key to supporting your body and mind as you age. If you need guidance to optimize your daily habits and support brain health, visit with a Gennev Registered Dietitian to create your personalized wellness plan.
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.