Want to improve your brain health? Here’s your 7-day warm-up plan.

There’s more to keeping your brain sharp than solving crosswords. Maintaining your cognitive skills in the long run means adopting a healthy lifestyle – and it doesn’t need to be complicated (really!).

Scott Kaiser, MD, Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Providence, said: “There are a number of healthy lifestyle habits that can help enhance cognitive function, optimize long-term brain health, and significantly reduce the incidence of dementia. Saint John Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. (And because many of these behaviors also support your overall health, you’ll reap the benefits from head to toe.)

Want to improve your brain health? Here's your 7-day warm-up plan.
Want to improve your brain health? Here’s your 7-day warm-up plan.

This seven-day warm-up plan can be helpful. By spending one day per week incorporating a new brain-friendly behavior, you’ll quickly make positive changes without being overwhelmed. Try – and on the weekends, you’ll be fine on the path to living well with gray matter.

Day 1: Get one more serving of fruits or vegetables

Stir large amounts of blueberries into your morning oatmeal or swap those bags of chips for lunch for a salad to accompany. Each product helps provide a protective dose to your brain. Fruits and vegetables contain many protective plant nutrients, and these plant chemicals “can actually reduce inflammation in our brains, protect brain cells from damage, and aid learning and memory,” Kaiser said.

In fact, a September 2021 study in the journal Neurology found that adults with the highest amounts of flavonoids, a plant compound, reported that they were 19% less forgetful or confused than adults with the least flavonoids. Options like greens and berries are thought to have the greatest brain-protecting effect, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Once you’ve incorporated that supplemental serving, try adding another one – and even another – until you regularly get five or more dishes from fruits and vegetables or more recommended daily.

Day 2: Schedule screening for high blood pressure and diabetes

High blood pressure or uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels in the brain. And because both conditions can hide undetected, checking can help you figure out exactly where you are – and take action, if necessary.

Daniel Lee, MD, a psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health in Ohio, explains: “High blood pressure and diabetes, as well as obesity and smoking, when left unchecked, increase the risk of developing stroke, which can reduce cognition. Wexner University Medical Center.

Adults ages 18 to 39 at average risk of high blood pressure should be screened every three to five years, while people over the age of 40 and under at high risk for high blood pressure should be screened once a year, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

People between the ages of 35 and 70 who are overweight or obese should be screened for diabetes every three years, according to the USPSTF. If you’re not sure if you should get your blood pressure checked or diabetes checked, talk to your doctor.

Day 3: 10-minute walk

Regular activity is important for brain health. Cognitive decline is twice as likely to occur in inactive adults as inactive people, according to a December 2020 study in the Journal of Prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly or about 30 minutes most days of the week. If you’re currently inactive, try incorporating just 10 minutes of activity into your day and building from there. A simple walk around the property is a great place to start. Then, let’s aim to go a little longer tomorrow!

Regular exercise keeps your body and brain healthy, but it can also lift your mood and help you sleep better, according to the CDC. And it’s a beneficial cycle for your brain: People who say they feel anxious, depressed, or sleep-deprived tend to be less active on cognitive tests, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Day 4: Go to bed 15 minutes earlier

When it comes to sleep, start working toward closing your eyes for 7 to 9 hours a night. If that means you have to increase your bedtime, try switching to just 15 minutes earlier every evening until you get enough sleep.

According to a study of nearly 8,000 adults in the journal Nature Communications in April 2021, regularly sleeping less than 6 hours per night was associated with a 30% higher risk of developing dementia later on than 7 hours or more.

“The quantity and quality of sleep have profound physiological [impacts] that affect our daily thoughts, memory, and mood as well as our risk of cognitive decline and long-term memory loss,” Kaiser said.

With such threatened elements, just watching one more episode is starting to lose its appeal, right?

Day 5: Eat fish for dinner

Getting more omega-3 fatty acids — especially DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid — has been linked to better memory and learning ability and lower rates of cognitive decline, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). And fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, and salmon are the top sources.

Try to provide DHA to your body by eating two servings of 4 ounces of fatty fish per week. If you’re starting from scratch, try to put seafood on the menu for dinner once a week and move gradually up from there. (Try these delicious salmon recipes under 500 calories.)

It’s still better: Swap a meal with beef or poultry for a floating fish. Dr. Lee said: “Studies of vascular outcomes in favor of a diet encourage fish and legumes to be a greater source of protein than other non-fish forms, including red meat.

Day 6: Consider your drinking

A glass of wine for dinner or a cocktail on a special occasion probably won’t harm your brain. But if you regularly drink a lot of alcohol, plan to cut back slowly. Depending on your habit, it means you should have one drink removed every day or every week.

Drinking more than 14 alcoholic beverages per week has been linked to an increased risk of dementia, according to a January 2020 review in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Alcohol in high concentrations “can have a direct toxic effect on blood vessels and brain cells, [causing] oxidative stress, and a host of other negative metabolic effects,” Kaiser said.

That doesn’t mean you need to abstain completely — it’s about achieving a healthy balance. Kaiser explains: “Drinking light to moderate alcohol can actually have anti-inflammatory effects and support a wide range of neuro-protective physiological events.

Day 7: Volunteer registration

Doing good for others can do well for your brain. While more research is needed, in preliminary studies, volunteering appears to be associated with better brain function, possibly because it helps participants be physically active, maintain social relationships, and engage in stimulating and abundant activities, according to a November 2017 analysis in the Journal of Gerontology: Series B.

There isn’t a single type of volunteer work that’s proven to be better for the brain than others, so focus on finding an activity you love. “We often encourage people that individuals like to participate in, in the hope that these promote participation, stimulation, joy, and feelings of well-being,” Lee said.

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