Are you starting to experience more and more “senior moments”? Brain fog, or those instances where your inability to concentrate or think clearly leaves you forgetting basic things can be a frustrating experience, but it does not have to be an inevitable part of getting older. In fact, scientists are starting to discover that challenges to our ability to remember, focus, and concentrate start in early adulthood, not when we are nearing retirement. This is partly because there is more to the cognitive health picture than just age—exercise, sleep, and nutrition play vital roles in maintaining our mental sharpness.
Improving your mental sharpness is about more than just downloading the latest brain-training app. Although there are some benefits to cognitive exercises (e.g. Sudoku), there are ways to help improve your concentration and focus that do not require a smartphone. We hear a lot about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and for a good reason. Below we discuss some of the concrete benefits for beating brain fog that exercise and healthy eating can provide.
Regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help contribute to brain health. Moderate-intensity exercise requires a moderate degree of effort and noticeably increases your heart rate. Examples might include brisk walking, gardening, or playing active games with your children.
Exercise has a number of indirect and direct benefits for improving brain health. Exercise helps us maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure, both of which lift our mood and lower stress and anxiety. Greater blood flow to your brain generally means more oxygen and more energy, which will generally improve brain performance.
But exercise can interact more directly with our memory function through the release of certain chemicals in our brain that directly involved with memory. In particular, a neurotransmitter called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (let’s just call that BDNF for short) is released when we exercise, which helps rewire memory circuits to improve their performance.
Exercise also interacts with whole sections of your brain that are involved with memory and cognitive function. When you exercise you increase activity in the hippocampus, a part of your brain that is critically involved with memory and learning. When you exercise you actually physically increase the size of your hippocampus, or at least reverse the shrinkage of this region that tends to occur later in life.
Much like exercise, proper nutrition can help maintain and improve mental development and acuity. There are a number of parts of your diet that can affect your brain’s health, including fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as factors such as alcohol consumption.
Essential fatty acids are required for optimal brain health. To improve your daily dose of these crucial fatty acids, try adding more vegetable oils (for omega-6), and leafy green vegetables, cold-water fish, and fish oils (for omega 3). These essential fatty acids help build the vital brain fats that allow our brain to function optimally. Fatty acids are also involved in regulating the function of new neurotransmitters and molecules in your immune system, improving the communication within your brain and immune function.
There are also a number of supplements available that can help support working memory:
When trying new dietary regimes or supplements to support your brain health, it is always important to look at the research available and have a chat with a healthcare professional to discuss your individual needs.
References available on request.