Many of us are concerned about the possibility of experiencing cognitive decline. While there are certain underlying conditions that increase the likelihood of that happening, the reality is that our cognitive destinies are likely much more within our control than we believe. Increasingly, scientists and clinicians are finding that simple habits, when taken in aggregate, can have a profound, positive impact on our long-term cognitive health. With that, here are five simple habits that you can incorporate into your daily routine to promote better long-term cognitive ability.
You probably already know that physical activity is good for your body. What you may not know, however, is that physical exercise has also been shown to be beneficial for your brain. Countless studies have proven the link between physical activity and brain health. (Some have even suggested that brain health may be the next great fitness trend!)
The best part is that it is incredibly easy to get started on a routine of physical activity. You don’t need any special equipment, you just need to move. That’s right! Just getting yourself up and walking each day is a great way of building your muscles and boosting your brain. An easy 20 minute walk each day may be enough to get your body and brain pumping.
Now that you’re up and about, it is time to add on the next incremental change, namely: getting outside. While physical activity is good, physical activity in the great outdoors is even better. That’s because the sun does wonders for our brains.
While overexposure to the sun has well known harmful side effects, too little exposure is also a problem, as it prevents our body from being able to create vitamin D, which is crucial for maintaining healthy bones. Just 15 minutes a day for lighter skinned people is enough to maintain an adequate level of vitamin D.
It should come as no surprise that diet can have a significant impact on both our physical and mental well being. But knowing that this is the case and acting on it are often at considerable odds. Don’t fret! It really is incredibly easy to start improving your brain health by simply watching what you put on your plate.
First, you may already know that a largely whole food, plant-based diet is the ideal way of eating to maintain both physical and mental well-being. Books discussing the “Blue Zones” or the incredible China Study, led by renowned Cornell Professor Colin T. Campbell, have clearly documented the long-term positive effects of consuming a primarily plant-based diet.
With that, many folks find it difficult to break old habits and immediately adopt a completely plant-based diet. Don’t worry! Eating doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Simply increasing the number of servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains we eat each day can be a great jump-start to healthier eating.
Start simple, by substituting whole grain brown rice for the highly processed white rice you typically eat. Or take a handful of blueberries and add them to your cereal or yogurt (maybe even a plant-based yogurt, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious). While it may not seem like a lot, these simple substitutions add up and can help you make incredible strides toward living a longer, fuller life.
Staying connected is tremendously important for our brain health. Not only does it help us maintain a positive mental outlook, but it also helps our brains retain our memories better. Given the ongoing global pandemic, staying connected is not as easy as it once was. That being said, new technologies are rapidly changing how we communicate and engage with each other. With video chat on our phones and computers, technology makes it easier than ever to see and stay in contact with friends and family.
A great way to stay connected with those you love is to simply schedule a regular check-in. This will help make sure that everyone is available and establishes a routine to stay connected with what is going on in each other’s lives.
I don’t mean right now (you have my permission to finish this article first!), but do try to cultivate good sleep hygiene. Sleep is when our bodies and brains clear out all of the accumulated junk and repair themselves. In fact, getting a good night’s sleep is so important for our mental health that it may be the highest priority when it comes to keeping cognitively healthy.
So many of us find it difficult to get to bed and to stay asleep. That is OK. Like everything else on this list, it takes a bit of time and effort to really get in the groove. Start by simply setting a regular bedtime, making sure that it is at an hour when you are able to start your routine. Some folks like to have a cup of Sleepytime tea or another soothing nightcap, but others don’t like that it may cause them to get up in the middle of the night. That part is up to you, just establish a routine that will work for you in the long run.
So, there you have it: five simple habits to help you cultivate great cognitive health. The best part is that while each step seems separate, in reality, they all work with each other to reinforce the effort that you are putting in. Eating well makes it easier and more effective to get moving which, in turn, makes it easier to get a good night’s sleep and so on. There really is a lot of power in these five simple steps, so why not take charge of your own cognitive destiny starting today!