Just as you can build muscle by lifting weights, you can strengthen the brain through specific behaviors. Prioritizing brain health can help you stay sharp, alert, and focused as you age, protecting you against cognitive decline and preventing or slowing the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Mark Hyman, renowned longevity expert and author of the new Young Forever: The Secrets to Living Your Longest, Healthiest Life, shared the six things he does daily for brain health in a recent Instagram post.
Here are Hyman’s six daily steps for optimal brain health:
Prioritizing healthy fats each day can strengthen the brain. They contain omega-3 fatty acids which are the “building blocks” of the brain and can help bolster people’s memory and learning capabilities, according to the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
“My brain worked pretty well before, but embracing fat pushed my mental clarity through the roof,” Hyman writes in his post. He incorporates avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, among others, into his healthy fat rotation.
Eating a diet rich in protein was associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline later in life, according to a 2022 study, and protein helps brain neurons communicate with each other.
While protein requirements vary by weight, age, and exercise regimen, the general recommendation for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (you can also multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to get a rough estimate). For those who are 40 and older, when muscle begins to atrophy, the protein recommendation rises to about 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, according to experts. Hyman, in his sixties, aims to eat 30 grams of protein at every meal to build muscle.
“When you lose muscle, you age faster, and your brain takes a huge hit!” Hyman writes in his post.
Start by incorporating protein shakes, nut butter, and fatty fish into your breakfast, according to Hyman.
Colorful plant foods
Colorful plant foods should take up the bulk of your plate, Hyman says. Eating a diverse array of plant foods provides your brain and body with many nutrients. This diversity strengthens the gut microbiome, which helps reduce inflammation. Whole plant-based foods like legumes and berries have antioxidant properties to provide sustained energy for the brain to focus.
“These colorful superfoods come loaded with brain-boosting stuff like phytonutrients,” Hyman says.
Avoid sugar and processed foods
Processed foods contain artificial flavorings and sweeteners that can cause brain fog and hurt memory. While these foods provide quick energy, they can also spike your blood sugar and lead to an energy crash shortly after.
Hyman suggests avoiding high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and food additives as much as you can each day.
Recall the feeling of a runner’s high? Getting outside and moving have a positive impact on the brain. Exercising, riding a bike, or even taking a quick break to walk outside has been associated with improved brain function and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even one workout a month was associated with improved cognitive function for older adults.
It can allow people to be more productive during their workday and instill a sense of calm.
Relax and calm the mind
Lastly, Hyman recommends calming the mind and slowing down. It’s vital when bogged down with a slew of tasks each day, which can lead to a feeling of brain depletion.
“Learn how to actively relax,” he says in his post. “To engage the powerful forces of the mind on the body, you must do something.”
He suggests yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or tai chi.
Practicing the 4-7-8 technique, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold it for seven seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds is an accessible way to calm the mind and body. Journaling as a relaxation tool can also help reduce stress and improve confidence.
Incorporating mindfulness practices into your day—just for 10 minutes even on your way to work—can make a difference.