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How To Improve Brain Function and Cognition – A Daily Checklist

Your brain is always switched on. It runs 24/7. However, brain health isn’t perhaps the first thing you might consider when looking to improve your health and fitness.

Nevertheless, brain health is essential for optimum wellness. It kind of makes sense to have the body’s processing powerhouse in top shape for an overall healthy life, doesn’t it? Thus, cognition is one of the seven core performance areas that we help track with our health app.

More on that later. You are here to discover how to improve your brain health. So here is a list of quick wins that will go a long way in doing so.

Take this free health quiz to get your health score and check if you are performing at your absolute best. Also get free personalised health advice based on your score.

Lifestyle hacks to improve brain function

1. Replace sugar with sugar-free snacks

Sugar is notorious for providing us with an instant, short-term energy boost. We are all guilty of choosing sugar-laden energy drinks when preparing for an upcoming deadline or exam. However, that high is short-lived. As sugar high declines, the inevitable crash interrupts our ability to create new mental pathways for retaining information1. Additionally, the same energy deficit also causes a reduction in your productivity and attention too2,3!

The good news is that there are a bunch of healthier alternatives available. You don’t even have to quit cold turkey. You can gradually reduce your sugar addiction with naturally sweetened/sugar-free alternatives.

Sound Organic Sparkling Tea is a healthy, organic, sugar-free energy drink that packs up to 70mg of caffeine.

By the way, you can check out our handy guide to help you identify products that appear “healthy” but in reality pack a lot of sugar.

2. Replace crashing with your phone with board games for your brain

Quite similar to exercising different muscles, you can exercise your brain too. We often give growing children puzzles to help further their cognitive development. And, it turns out, they work just as well to keep the adult brain sharp4!

Studies recently found that solving jigsaw puzzles engages visuospatial cognition (our perception of the physical world) and can help protect the adult brain from cognitive decline5.

So ditch the smartphone at the end of a boring day and set up a board game with friends or family. You’ll get to provide some exercise to your brain and have fun with your loved ones. Additionally, your eyes will thank you for the break from the screen.

3. KISS – Keep It Simple Silly!

Jacobo Mintzer, in a recent study, discussed how people who described their mental wellbeing as “feeling good” and “coping well” had improved cognitive function and episodic memory6.

The key takeaway from that study was: Don’t give yourself a hard time during the challenging moments – life can be tricky! Instead, in the meantime, discover new strategies to look after yourself.

Some people prefer meditation. Meditation has beneficial effects on slowing cognitive decline in younger and middle-aged adults, and potentially improves cognitive function in older adults7,8.

Others may enjoy working out through running, yoga or Tai Chi. Or you could try some mindfulness activities, such as gardening, painting, or just the calming escapism of a good audiobook.

The point is, spend some time trying things that calm you down. When the going gets tough, have a mental health day for yourself to relax and KISS!

Nutritional hacks to improve brain function

caffeine to improve cognition
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Nootropics are natural vitamins and minerals that boost cognitive function and enhance your brainpower. Here are some foods that have nutrients that can positively impact brain health.

4. Hello productivity, meet Caffeine

Even as I’m writing this, I’m onto my third cup of caramel tea. Caffeine is the most commonly known nootropic. Even if you don’t drink it in your favourite beverage, you’ve probably known it since your late teens9.

Caffeine is so widely consumed because the stimulant blocks the adenosine pathway receptors. Therefore, your brain can keep working on your project ’til the early hours because it can’t detect that it’s tired10,11.

5. Get more iron from your diet

Iron creates haemoglobin molecules that carry oxygen in red blood cells and transport oxygen across the body. Moreover, iron is used to produce a substance called Myelin. Myelin coats brain cells and increases the rate at which signals are sent to and from the brain12,13.

You can find iron in many common foods, including red meat such as beef, shellfish and most healthy breakfast cereals. Sources of iron in a vegan-based diet include nuts, dried fruit and most legumes – including kidney beans, chickpeas and soybeans14.

To confirm what your parents told you as a kid, vegetables such as broccoli and spinach contain iron too. However, the human body can’t absorb and process it as well as it can from the foods listed above15.

6. You can’t really escape the vegetables

Leafy greens such as spinach are a great source of magnesium, even if they’re not a good source of iron16. So yes, no matter how old you get, your parents’ advice will forever haunt you until you just give in! For the sake of your health of course.

Magnesium is essential for many metabolic pathways throughout the body16. But more importantly, it promotes the production of healthy neurons, especially during foetal development17. Studies have shown that it reduces neuropathic pain in patients with nerve damage18.

Nootropic supplements to improve brain function

These nootropics can be purchased as a supplement from your local pharmacy or health-food store. If you have a health condition, it’s always safe to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.

7. Start building up healthy blood cells with B Vitamins

B vitamins boost your immune system and are essential to iron in building healthy blood cells. A healthy supply of blood cells promotes optimum oxygenation for the brain19. Although this area is still under active research, it is known that B vitamins are essential to keep the brain in its prime – from oxygenation to neurotransmitter production20,21,22,23.

In fact, deficiencies in B vitamins cause an increased risk of anxiety, depression, impaired concentration, and memory loss24.

8. Omega-3 is brain food

Omega-3 oils can help slow down and potentially stave off neurodegenerative diseases – Alzheimer’s and similar conditions. Omega-3s can improve cognitive function and spatial memory and support long-term neural structures within the brain! 25,26,27

Omega-3s are “fatty acids” found in oily fish, including; salmon, tuna, herring and sardines. Alternatively, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, linseed (flaxseed) oil is the way to go28.

9. Resveratol is science asking you to eat more dark chocolate

Most of us want to avoid the signs of ageing to our skin and bodies; only a few of us focus on how ageing occurs biologically and how the brain ages.

Ageing is a side-effect of tissue turnover and cell regeneration. In most organs of the body, after the lifecycle of one cell generation ends, the replacement cell set will have a slightly shorter lifespan29. This turnover is caused by oxidative stress30. Powerful antioxidants including Resveratol (found in dark chocolate and red wine) help defend the cell set against oxidation, slowing down ageing and improving memory! 31,32,33

Improve your brain function with a health app personalised to you

It’s commendable that you are actively working on improving your cognition and overall health. However, the path to reach a stage where you are performing at your best can be confusing. It is tricky to keep track of all the changes you need to make and constantly measure results. And the latter is important because, let’s face it, the end goal should always be positive growth.

Here’s a short two-paragraph pitch on why we think we can help you get there.

The ElevateMe health test starts with a simple health blood test (you gotta know the areas that need improvement before putting in all the effort), a lifestyle questionnaire (what are your health goals and how far are you in your journey), and a health app personalised to you.

ElevateMe-Health-App-1
Here’s what the health app looks like. You can try out a demo for free here.

The health app is where you get a personalised action list across what lifestyle changes to make, what foods to include in your diet, and (if you choose) what supplements to use. In addition to all that, your health app will also have a detailed dashboard where all your progress will be recorded. So you can always look back and be proud of how far you’ve come.

Get the ElevateMe health test here!

References

References

  1. Barnes, J. N., & Joyner, M. J. (2012). Sugar highs and lows: The impact of diet on cognitive function. The Journal of Physiology, 590(12), 2831–2831.
  2. Chong, C. P., Sh har, S., Haron, H., & Din, N. C. (2019). Habitual sugar intake and cognitive impairment among multi-ethnic Malaysian older adults. Clinical Interventions in Aging, Volume 14, 1331–1342.
  3. Kendig, M. D. (2014). Cognitive and behavioural effects of sugar consumption in rodents. A Review. Appetite, 80, 41–54.
  4. Fissler, P. 2018). Healthy cognitive ageing through cognitive training, physical exercise, and leisure activities: From theory to new interventions. Doc ral dissertation, U iversität Ulm.
  5. Fissler, P., Küster, O. C., Laptinskaya, D., Loy, L. S., von Arnim, C. A., & Kolassa, I.-T. (2018). Jigsaw puzzling taps multiple cognitive abilities and is a potential protective factor for cognitive ageing. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 10.
  6. Mintzer, J., Donovan, K. A., Kindy, A. Z., Lock, S. L., Chura, L. R., & Barracca, N. (2 19). Lifestyle choices and brain health. Frontiers in Medicine, 6
  7. Gar , T., Hölzel, B. K., & Lazar, S. W. (2014). The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: A systematic review. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307(1), 89–103.
  8. Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10(1), 54–64.
  9. Frary C. D., Johnson, R. K., & Wang, M. Q. (2005). Food sources and intakes of caffeine in the diets of persons in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(1), 110–113.
  10. Ferré, S. (2008). An update on the mechanisms of the psychostimulant effects of caffeine. Journal of Neurochemist y, 105(4), 1067–1079.
  11. Ribeiro, J. A., & Sebastião, A. M. (2010). Caffeine and aden sine. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 20(s1).
  12. Jáuregui-Lobera, I. (2014). Iron deficiency and cognitive functions. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2087.
  13. Wessling-Resnick, M. (2021, January 1). Iron. Linus Pau ing Institute. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  14. Mikstas, C. (2020, Novemb r 16). Top iron-rich foods list. WebMD. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  15. NHS. 2020, August 3). Iron NHS choices. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  16. Vormann, J. (2016). Magnesium: Nutrit on and homoeostasis. AIMS Public Health, 3(2), 329–340.
  17. Fanni, D., Gerosa, C., Nurchi, V. M., Manchia, M., Saba, L., Coghe, F., Crisponi, G., Gibo, Y., Van Eyken, P., Fanos, V., & Faa, G. (2020). The role of magnesium in pregnancy and in fetal programming of adult diseases. Biological Trace Element Research.
  18. Westermaie , T., Stetter, C., Vince, G. H., Pham, M., Tejon, J. P., Eriskat, J., Kunze, E , Mat hies, C., Ernestus, R.-I , Solymosi, L., & Roosen, K. (2010). Prophylactic intravenous magnesium sulfate for treatment of aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage: A randomised, placebo-controlled, clinical study*. Critical Care Medicine, 38(5), 1284–1290.
  19. Kennedy, D. (2016). B vitamins and the brain: Mecha isms, dose and efficacy—a review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68.
  20. Calvaresi, E., & Bryan, J. (2001). B vitamins, cognition, and ageing: A Review. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 56(6).
  21. Kim, H , Kim, G., Jang, W., Kim, S. Y., & Chang, N. (2014). Association between intake of B vitamins and cognitive function in elderly Koreans with cognitive impairment. Nutrition Journal, 13(1).
  22. Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Bienias, J. L., Tangney, C. C., Hebert, L. E., Scherr, P. ., & Schneider, J. A. (2005). Dieta y folate and vitamin B12 intake and cognitive decline among community-dwelling older persons. Archives of Neurology, 62(4), 641.
  23. Mikstas, C. (2020, Novemb r 16). Top iron-rich foods list. WebMD. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  24. Morris, M. S. (2012). The role of B vitamins in preventing and treating cognitive impairment and decline. Advances in Nutrition, 3(6), 801–812.
  25. Dyall, S. C. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: A review of the independent and shared effects of EPA DPA and DHA. Frontiers in Agin Neuroscience, 7.
  26. Kim, E. J., Ham, R., Shin, J. A., Jeong J. Y., Na, K. R., ee, K. W., Kim, J.-J., & Choi, D. E. (2021). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid attenuates uremia-induced brain damage in mice. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(21), 11802.
  27. Witte, A. V., Kerti, L., Hermannstädter, H. M., Fiebach, J. B., Schreiber, S. J., Schuchardt, J. P., Hahn, ., & Flöel, A. (2013). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids improve brain function and structure in older adults. Cerebral Cortex, 24(11), 3059–3068.
  28. Lange, K. W. (2020). Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health. Global Health Journal, 4(1), 18–30.
  29. Pizzino, G., Irrera, N., Cucinotta, ., Pallio, G., Mannino, F., Arcoraci, V., Squa rito, F., Altavil a, D. & Bitto, A. (2017). Oxidative stress: Harms and benefits for human health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017, 1–13.
  30. Betteridge, D. J. (2000). What is oxidative stress? Metabolism, 49(2), 3–8.
  31. Cicero, A. F. G., Ruscica, M., & Banach, M. (2019). Resveratrol and cognitive decline: A clinician perspective. Archives of Medical Science, 15(4), 936–943.
  32. Evans, H., Howe, P., & Wong, R. (2017). Effects of resveratrol on cognitive performance, mood and cerebrovascular function in post-menopausal women; a 1 -week randomised placebo-controlled intervention trial. Nutrients, 9(1), 27.
  33. Thaung Zaw, J. J., Howe, P. R., & Wong, R. H. (2020). Sustained cerebrovascular and cognitive benefits of resveratrol in post-menopausal women. Nutrients, 12(3), 828.
Improve Brain Function health hack - ElevateMe

Written by Mimi Adams

I am a 3rd-year Bioscience student. I love studying neuroscience and nutritional health. My undergraduate dissertation focuses on the biology of autism. My long-term goal is to specialise and work as a medical writer.

07/01/2022

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