Perform These Healthy, Science-Backed Habits For Brain Health

According to the United Nations, one in six people suffer from a neurological disease. A new case of dementia is detected every four seconds. Since your brain controls all the functions in your body, caring for your mind is essential. Neurologists have discovered that certain activities can encourage brain health and potentially ward off disease.

You may be surprised how simple these activities seem, from drawing to playing games to managing your headphone volume. Making some changes can keep your mind sharp as you age, so don’t hesitate to engage in these healthy habits for the brain.

Stop Multitasking

In this illustration, a woman frustratingly talks to two coworkers at once.
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If you’re reading this article while working on or listening to something else, stop. In 2014, Stanford researchers discovered that multitasking places significant stress on the brain. Participants who thought they were “good” at multitasking were actually a lot worse than people who tackle single tasks.

Along with reducing performance and speed, multitasking harms your brain. Scientists at the University of London reported the multitasking lowers your IQ. Through a brain scan, University of Sussex researchers saw that multitasking physically damages the brain. So drop all your other activities and focus on one thing.

Turn Down The Volume

A woman listens to music using headphones.
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Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Loud music doesn’t only hurt your ears; it can also impact your brain. In 2014, researchers at the University of Texas explored how loud noises affect the brain. According to them, turning up the volume could damage neural cells, which could result in difficulty understanding and slow reaction times.

According to a 2018 study by Ohio State University, people with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia. Fortunately, your hearing can recover. Keep the sound under 85 decibels, or below 60% of your phone or laptop’s volume. Your brain will thank you.

Doodle More

A person draws random shapes on a piece of paper.
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H. Armstrong Roberts/Classicstock/Getty Images

Scientists have proven that doodling is never a waste of time. In 2009, a psychologist called participants and asked them questions. Some doodled while listening; others didn’t. In the end, the psychologist quizzed their memories, and the doodlers recalled 29% more information than those who only listened.

Why did this happen? According to The Arts in Psychotherapy, drawing and coloring enhance the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that handles logic, attention, problem-solving, and memory. Students may benefit from doodling in their notebooks, after all.

Keep Up With Your Chores

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Unsplash/@sweetpagesco

Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to improve the brain. In 2019, research in Neurology concluded that basic physical activities–such as doing laundry and cleaning the dishes–could improve mental strength in older adults. As long as you’re moving, your brain will thank you.

Participants had increased brain mass of around 0.22%, even at age 60. “The science [suggests] that light-intensity physical activity might be important too, especially for the brain,” says research author Nicole Spartarno. If you don’t want to do your chores, think about your brain!

Exercise Regularly

A man works out during a gym training session.
Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

In 2014, researchers from the University of British Columbia connected exercise to brain health. Participants who performed aerobic exercise–mainly walking–for 120 minutes a week had sharper minds. According to researchers, exercise improves the hippocampus, the part of your brain that aids learning and memory.

And it’s not just the hippocampus. At UCLA, scientists noted that exercise encourages the brain to grow and form new neural connections. Research from Stockholm added that exercising has an antidepressant effect on the brain. Since exercise has so many benefits, hit the gym!

Play Puzzle Games

The World Champion of sudoku, Michael Ley, shows off his puzzle.
Roberto Pfeil/picture alliance via Getty Images
Roberto Pfeil/picture alliance via Getty Images

Yes, scientists are encouraging people to play more games! Puzzle-solving games can improve your planning skills, processing speed, decision-making, and reaction time, according to research in International Psychogeriatrics.

Harvard Health reports that these games are often designed to challenge your mind. Over time, the games can build cognitive reserve, says Memory Disorders Assessment Clinic director Julie Brody-Magid. Cognitive reserve is a set of skills that your brain stores and brings out when needed. It can help the brain remain resilient against age-related mental decline.

Get Enough Sleep

A man sleeps with an eye mask on.
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Carmen Jaspersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 2016, researchers at Texas A&M University discovered that students who pull all-nighters get worse results on their tests than students who sleep. Anyone who has felt too tired to function may agree. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, poor sleep reduces “brain plasticity, which makes it harder to learn and remember things throughout the day.

In 2019, a study by Washington University suggested that insomnia can raise peoples’ risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Experts believe that sleeping “cleans” the brain, and without it, your mind will suffer. Make an effort to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

Stay Social

Two women laugh while eating dinner out.
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Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

In 2015, BMC Public Health released a study that analyzed 2,854 participants over 20 years. Researchers discovered that staying socially active lowered participants’ risk of dementia later in life. Social events involve a lot of remembering, responding, and problem-solving that keeps your brain sharp, explains neurologist Dan Kaufer.

You don’t have to turn into a social butterfly, says Dr. Kaufer. Maintaining one or two solid relationships can significantly boost your brain. Plus, remaining social increases your overall quality of life, according to research in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.

Mix Up Your Workout Routine

Two women perform yoga exercises in a shaded park spot.
Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images
Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images

Scientists have discovered that specific exercises strengthen different parts of the brain. For instance, The Journal of Aging Research reports that walking and lifting weights boost spacial memory. Yoga can enhance your overall memory, say UCLA neuroscientists. For the best brain health, consider mixing up your exercise routine.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends mixing moderate and intense workouts. Try new exercises and activities for the sake of your brain. Believe it or not, a 2017 study in The Lancet discovered that exercising may delay dementia by up to 15 years.

Take Care Of A Pet

A woman's Husky licks her face.
Gavriil GrigorovTASS via Getty Images
Gavriil GrigorovTASS via Getty Images

Neuroscientists believe that owning a pet can improve peoples’ brain health. According to Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, a director of the Luo Ruvo Center for Brain Health, petting an animal lowers the hormone cortisol and increases serotonin. In other words, it reduces stress and helps people feel happy.

Dog owners also receive more exercise because they frequently walk their pets, explains neuropsychiatrist Aaron Ritter. When interacting with a pet, your brain functions similarly to the way it does in a social situation. In terms of brain health, there is no downside to owning a pet.

Lower The Sugar In Your Diet

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Unsplash/@autthaporn

Since the brain requires so much energy, it absorbs half the sugar in your body. And although the brain needs sugar, too much can damage the organ. According to Behavioral Brain Research, sugar inflames the brain, which can result in memory issues, mood swings, and difficulty focusing.

Diabetics are especially at risk of sugar-related mental decline. During a 2016 study, participants struggled with motor speed, memory, and learning when they ate more sugar. By cutting out excess sugar, you could be supporting your brain health throughout your life.

Combat Stress Fist

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Unsplash/@lvnatikk

Prolonged stress can significantly harm the brain. Researchers from Rosalind Franklin University discovered that stress kills brain cells. In animal studies, stress eliminated cells in the hippocampus, which governs emotion, memory, and learning. According to Molecular Psychiatry, stress makes the brain vulnerable to diseases and mental illness.

Psychologist Daniela Kaufer believes that not all stress harms the brain. Positive stress, which motivates people to tackle a challenge, can keep the brain resilient. But chronic stress can make you vulnerable to disease, she explains. If you tackle one thing for your brain health, work on stress levels.

Learn A Second Language

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Researchers have discovered that bilingual people may have healthier brains. According to the Frontiers of Psychology, learning a new language enhances your concentration. Bilingual participants were able to focus on what really matters and ignore the details. It also reduces “cognitive traps,” preventing people from typos and misspellings, reports Cognition.

According to a 2014 study, bilingual students are less likely to be swayed by advertisements and more self-aware of their money. Not only that, but learning a new language (at any age) can delay Alzheimer’s by up to four years, according to 2013 research in Neurology.

Don’t Be Afraid To Nap

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Unsplash/@taniamousinho.

Just as a full night’s sleep promotes brain health, naps do, too. According to a 2002 study in Nature Neuroscience, naps can halt mental deterioration. Participants who took a 30-minute nap had no more mental decline throughout the day; those who took an hour-long nap reversed the brain damage from earlier.

That said, long naps can make people groggy. Leon Lack, a professor from Flinders University, recommends limiting naps to ten or 15 minutes. The National Sleep Foundation raises the bar to 20 and 30 minutes for “short-term alertness.” Even a short rest will improve your brain!

Try Out The Mediterranean Or MIND Diet

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Unsplash/@lavievagabonde

Nutritional research has recently focused on the Mediterranean diet and its numerous health effects. According to a study in NeuroImage, older adults who eat a Mediterranean diet have “enhanced brain network connectivity.” Scientists believe that the nutrients in this diet support the brain.

Other scientists mix the Mediterranean and DASH diets to create the MIND diet. For this diet, researchers recommend beans, berries, whole grain, fish, olive oil, lean meats, nuts, and leafy greens. Try to limit red meats, butter, cheese, and fast food, advises Rush University Medical Center.

Learn A New Skill

Three students study together in a library.
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at least 17% of American adults are enrolled in college at age 35. These people are boosting their brain. In Psychological Science, researchers taught older adults a new skill over three months. These people had sharper minds and more self-confidence.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh report that learning a new skill changes your brain anatomy. As you learn, the brain forms new neural connections, which makes the ability easier over time. Over time, your mind will grow stronger and delay neural disorders as you age.

Drink Coffee

Customers enjoy coffee at a cafe in Venice.
Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Drinking coffee does more than wake you up. According to a 2015 Italian study, drinking coffee moderately can reduce a person’s risk of mild cognitive impairment. Over time, coffee can resist the onset of Alzheimer’s, says Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Michael Yassa.

In 2016, scientists from the University of Ulster concluded that the benefits of coffee “clearly outweigh” the possible risks. Drinking coffee can protect the brain from mental decline and Parkinson’s disease, according to the Frontiers of Neuroscience. For these benefits, drinking one to four cups of coffee is considered “moderate.”

Add Antioxidants To Your Meals

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Study after study has linked antioxidants to brain health. In 2017, research in Nutrients reported that antioxidants prevent the brain from aging. An earlier study in Neurochemical Research said that antioxidants might lower your risk of cognitive diseases.

High-antioxidant foods include fruits, leafy greens, nuts, and beans. Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, a director of the Luo Ruvo Center for Brain Health, adds dried fruit to his yogurt for an extra antioxidant boost. “Brain foods” can enhance your concentration, sharpness, and memory, says Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Meditate

Two women practice meditation.
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Unsplash/@antonikachanel

Meditation and mindfulness practices have proven benefits for the brain. In 2015, UCLA scientists discovered that meditating preserves gray matter in the brain, which guards against damage. Further research in JAMA found that meditation reduces depression, anxiety, and stress in people.

Meditating can physically change the brain for the better. In 2011, Harvard researchers discovered that mindfulness shrinks the amygdala, which causes anxiety and stress. It also improves gray matter to help you concentrate and pay attention. Even 10 minutes of meditating can significantly support your brain.

Enjoy An Occasional Chocolate Dessert

A woman selects a chocolate muffin from a tray.
Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Believe it or not, chocolate–mainly healthy chocolate with at least 70% cocoa–can help your brain. During a 2006 study, scientists found that cocoa flavonoids increase blood flow to your brain. Over time, this can improve grey matter in the brain, which lowers the risk of dementia, strokes, and cognitive decline.

In older adults, dark chocolate and improve blood pressure and mental sharpness. According to a 2012 study in Hypertension, chocolate eaters became better communicators and had a smaller risk of brain disease. You can thank coffee’s stimulants, like caffeine and theobromine, for the brain benefits.