As we age, our brains break down like our organs and bodies. Unfortunately, the cognitive aging process can’t be stopped, but according to Florida neurosurgeon Dr. Brett Osborn, there are ways we can slow it down. Dr. Osborn says the key is to send the body “healthy signals” that stop inflammation and reduce the damaging free radicals that can harm our DNA and cells.
Dr. Osborn said while there might not be brain-specific signals, the same healthy lifestyle choices that benefit the body can also apply to the brain. Here are some changes you can make to boost cognitive health and slow brain aging.
According to Dr. Osborn, humans were born to move, and a sedentary lifestyle is a detriment to our minds and bodies. He says the brain sends movement instructions to the muscles and receives signals from the muscles. This communication, particularly from strenuous exercise, creates neuron-to-neuron connections. Exercise is beneficial for the brain’s memory centers.
The doctor pointed out that in Alzheimer’s disease patients, hippocampal volume loss is diminished in those who exercise compared to the sedentary group. Physical activity also lowers cortisol levels, known as the stress hormone. In turn, this helps improve sleep, which forms memories and rids the brain of toxins. Dr. Osborn recommends 30 minutes of endurance training five days a week or one hour of strength training three days a week.
Stimulate your mind.
Dr. Osborn also noted that challenging your brain can help build cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s damage resistance. Stimulating your mind encourages neuronal firing in the parietal and temporal brain regions, critical areas for memory function and language. The longevity expert says that both functions are affected in Alzheimer’s disease patients, so stimulating these brain areas is preservative. In other words, use it or lose it.
Playing challenging games, dancing, arts and crafts and engaging in mentally stimulating activities may support working memory, attention, mental speed, task switching, and other characteristics connected to cognitive reserve. These activities have also been linked to increased gray matter volume in the brain. Other ideas include reading for 30 minutes, doing puzzles, picking up a musical instrument or learning a new language. Dr. Osborn also suggested learning to identify the odors of essential oils with your eyes closed, which has been shown to have brain-protective effects.
Eat a healthy diet.
Nutrition plays a critical role in brain and body health. According to Dr. Osborn, your diet should be low in refined carbohydrates and sugar and high in anti-inflammatory fats. It should also have colorful vegetables, particularly greens. He recommended a modified ketogenic or Mediterranean diet with avocado and olive oil, omega-3 fats from flax or fish, and moderate protein from greens and lean meats.
The doctor suggested building vegetables into a smoothie or using super-food powder as a drink fix for people who don’t like veggies. You could also try intermittent fasting, an eating pattern where you restrict the hours you eat every day instead of the amount of food you eat to support cognitive function. The brain can switch to using ketones created from fat as an additional fuel source during intermittent fasting, which also reduces its reliance on glucose. Ketones produced during fasting triggers higher protein levels, which help protect the brain and boost memory.
Take care of your gut.
According to Dr. Osborn, the gut has a network of nerves and is typically called our second brain. There’s an intimate interaction between our brain and the GI tract. The health of one mirrors that of the other. In most cases, if your gut is healthy, so is your brain. For example, if you eat properly, you’ll produce optimal serotonin levels, which regulate your mood and appetite. Most of the body’s circulating serotonin, a neurotransmitter that delivers messages between the body and brain, is produced in the gut.
It’s also essential to stop chronic inflammation in the gut, which can create the same condition in the brain. Health influencer Melanie Avalon says that gut dysbiosis, or gut imbalance, is typically seen in people with Alzheimer’s. Amyloids created by the gut microbiome can also encourage dementia development. Dr. Osborn emphasized the importance of avoiding sugary sodas and fast foods and eating green leafy vegetables instead. He said you can also supplement your diet with fermented foods like sauerkraut, low-sugar yogurt, or kefir, as these promote intestinal health.
Get enough sleep.
According to Dr. Osborn, getting a restful night’s sleep is critical for cognitive function, memory formation, and overall brain health. However, he says the issue is that as we age, total sleep time declines, particularly time spent in slow-wave sleep, or SLS. During SLS, your brain is free of cellular toxins and debris collected throughout the day. The doctor said people who sleep poorly are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Amyloid plaques collect in those with Alzheimer’s, causing the brain to malfunction.
To promote quality sleep, Dr. Osborn recommends limiting screen time and blue light exposure that interfere with melatonin production, also known as the body’s sleep hormone. The doctor also recommended reducing the ambient temperature in your bedroom, keeping temps between 65 and 70 degrees. It would be best to avoid alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and heavy meals before bed, which can disrupt sleep.
Keep an eye on your stress levels.
Chronic stress has adverse effects on brain health. The body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol, plays a crucial role in responding to short-term stressors but can also cause bodily damage in the long run. Dr. Osborn says that high cortisol levels can suppress the immune system over time, reducing the ability to fight off infections. Cortisol also elevates blood sugar, which can lead to various health concerns, including Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, which are primers for Alzheimer’s. Dr. Osborn recommends practicing relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
Both body and mind tend to malfunction as we age. The longer we stand on earth, the more you can slow its progression rate or regression. It’s easier than you may think. What keeps your body healthy also keeps your brain healthy.