Make sure you are doing all of these things.
Just like our bodies and organs undergo aging processes, our brains also experience changes with age. While we cannot halt cognitive aging, Dr. Brett Osborn, a neurosurgeon and longevity expert based in Florida, suggests that we can slow it down. The key, according to him, lies in sending our bodies “healthy signals” that reduce inflammation and minimize the harmful effects of free radicals on our cells and DNA. While there may not be specific signals for the brain, adopting a healthy lifestyle can benefit both our bodies and brains, says Osborn. Here are his top ten recommendations according to Fox for slowing brain aging and enhancing cognitive health:
- Regular Exercise: Osborn emphasizes that humans are naturally inclined to move, and a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to both our bodies and minds. He explains that exercise fosters communication between the brain and muscles, particularly through strenuous exercise, which forges neuron-to-neuron connections. It is particularly beneficial for the brain’s memory centers, with Alzheimer’s patients experiencing reduced hippocampal volume loss through exercise. Furthermore, exercise reduces cortisol levels, leading to better sleep, toxin removal from the brain, and memory formation. Osborn recommends 30 minutes of endurance training five days a week or one hour of strength training three days a week, combined with two 30-minute endurance training sessions.
- Mental Stimulation: Challenging the brain aids in building “cognitive reserve,” which helps protect it from damage, according to Osborn. Activities that stimulate neuronal firing in crucial brain regions responsible for language and memory are especially beneficial. Melanie Avalon, a health influencer, suggests engaging in multifaceted, complex activities like dancing, playing challenging games, creating art, and participating in mentally stimulating occupational activities. These activities correlate with increased gray matter volume in the brain. Other suggestions from Osborn include solving puzzles, reading for 30 minutes nightly, learning a new language, picking up a musical instrument, or identifying the distinct odors of essential oils with closed eyes, which have protective effects on the brain.
- Balanced Diet: Nutrition plays a vital role in brain health, Osborn emphasizes. He recommends a diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, rich in anti-inflammatory fats, and abundant in colorful vegetables, especially greens. Osborn personally advocates for blueberries and spinach, both known to promote healthy brain function. If vegetables are not your preference, he suggests incorporating them into a smoothie or using a “super-food” powder. Protein intake should support muscle mass, with a recommendation of 0.75 grams per pound of body weight. Sarcopenia, a condition characterized by muscle mass loss, not only affects physical but cognitive health as well. Intermittent fasting, restricting eating hours instead of food amount, is also advised as it promotes cognitive function by encouraging the brain to utilize ketones generated from fat, reducing its reliance on glucose.
- Gut Health Optimization: Osborn highlights the close connection between the gut and the brain, often referred to as the “second brain.” A healthy gut promotes the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter crucial for regulating appetite and mood. To maintain gut health and prevent chronic inflammation that can affect the brain, Osborn suggests avoiding fast food and sugary sodas, consuming green leafy vegetables, and supplementing your diet with fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, low-sugar yogurt, or aged cheese.
- Quality Sleep: Restful sleep is essential for memory formation, cognitive function, and overall brain health, says Osborn. Slow-wave sleep (SLS) allows the brain to clear cellular debris and toxins collected during the day. Poor sleep quality increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, as amyloid plaques accumulate in affected individuals. Osborn recommends limiting screen time, reducing exposure to blue light, keeping the bedroom temperature between 65 to 70 degrees, avoiding caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and heavy meals before bedtime, all of which contribute to better sleep quality.
- Stress Management: Osborn highlights the adverse effects of chronic stress on brain health. Prolonged high cortisol levels suppress the immune system and elevate blood sugar, potentially leading to insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, and ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease. To manage stress, Osborn suggests relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
- Alcohol Consumption: Osborn describes alcohol as a neurotoxin that accelerates brain aging in various ways. It interferes with cognition, disrupts the gut microbiome, and causes inflammation throughout the body. He recommends reducing alcohol consumption or abstaining entirely. While some studies suggest moderate alcohol intake may have brain benefits, experts like Avalon recommend caution, as heavy or irregular alcohol use can lead to cognitive impairment.
In conclusion, adopting these lifestyle changes can help slow down brain aging and enhance cognitive health, promoting overall well-being as we age.