Strategies to Support Brain Health
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been enjoying a more relaxed schedule this summer. Soon, the longer, warmer days will be behind us, and it will be time for gearing up to get things done. Come September, you’ll want your brain firing on all cylinders. Here are some strategies to support your ability to focus, remember, and reason.
Maintain Good Health
If there is a most important organ, it’s the brain. The brain solves problems, stores and retrieves memories, directs your body to breath, blink, and digest food, and much more.
Protecting your brain with overall good health pays off by promoting heart health, too. Research shows that controlling risk factors linked to heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, helps preserve brain function.
Regular exercise also promotes brain “fitness.” Physically active adults are less likely to experience age-related declines in thinking, learning, and judgment skills, according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Most healthy people need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking.
Feed Your Head
A balanced diet with the right number of calories helps reduce the risk for the conditions that can harm the brain. Certain nutrients come to mind for supporting brain health, too:
- Antioxidants. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect brain cells by deflecting some of the damage caused by free radicals - harmful forms of oxygen formed in the body.
Free radicals are responsible for oxidative stress, which may play a role in conditions that affect the brain, including dementia. While more research is needed to solidify the connection between antioxidants and disease prevention, it’s important to satisfy the suggested daily intake for vitamin C , and to reap the benefits of other antioxidants, which are plentiful in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- B Vitamins: Several B vitamins support brain function. For example, thiamin and riboflavin are involved with central nervous system function, and pantothenic acid participates in the production of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that helps brain cells “talk” to each other.
Studies show that vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to muscle weakness, vision problems, and mood disturbances. People over the age of 50 may not absorb as much naturally-occurring vitamin B12 from food as younger people, and people who avoid animal products may have inadequate intakes of vitamin B12. Look for fortified foods and dietary supplements to help satisfy vitamin B12 needs.
- Omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats support the structure of brain cell membranes. Seafood is an excellent source of these unsaturated, heart-healthy fats. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating at least eight ounces of fish weekly to get the omega-3 fats you require. If you don’t eat that much fish, you may need omega-3 dietary supplement.
- Water: Dehydration can ruin your concentration and may cause confusion. Drink nine cups of water daily to stay hydrated.
- Potassium. Potassium may help to curb elevated blood pressure by helping the body to get rid of excess sodium, which is linked to high blood pressure. Fresh and lightly processed foods are richest in potassium.