Looking for an easy way to improve your brain function, delay mental aging, and live longer? Believe it or not, simple lifestyle changes can help.
Dr. Joseph Mercola says: “You might be surprised to learn that not only do such strategies exist, but many are easily attainable by making simple tweaks here and there to your daily routine.”
Here are the top nine strategies recommended by Dr. Mercola to help improve your mental health and make you smarter.
When you exercise, your cells release proteins called neurotrophic factors. One of these proteins is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which works by triggering chemicals that promote neural health and helps improve your cognitive and learning function.
“Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage,” explains Dr. Mercola.
He recommends a comprehensive program like Peak Fitness that includes high-intensity exercises, strength training, stretching, and core work, so that you can make the most out of your workouts.
2. Get Enough Sleep.
Sleep helps “reset” your brain so you can look at problems or issues from a different angle, helping you become more creative. It also enhances your memory and helps you take control of challenging situations. In one Harvard study, it was found that sleeping helps people become 33 percent better at inferring connections among distantly related ideas.
“Sleep is not only essential for regenerating your physical body, but it is imperative for reaching new mental insights and being able to see new creative solutions to old problems,” says Dr. Mercola.
3. Increase Your Intake of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats.
Sixty percent of your brain is made up of fat, 25 percent of which is the omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The influence of omega-3 fats on your physical and mental health has been greatly debated and researched. There is also compelling evidence that these fats may reduce the risk of or potentially reverse psychiatric illnesses and degenerative brain problems, like memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
The problem with omega-3 fats is that they are not created in your body. This is why you must increase your intake of these healthy fats through your diet.
To compensate for an inherently low omega-3 diet, a high-quality animal-based omega-3 krill oil supplement is recommended for virtually everyone, especially if you’re pregnant.
4. Get Enough Vitamin D.
Nerve growth in your brain increases through your activated vitamin D receptors. According to researchers, the hippocampus and cerebellum – brain areas that are crucial for planning, processing of information, and forming memories –also have localized metabolic pathways for vitamin D.
Appropriate sun exposure is the best way to ensure that your body creates enough vitamin D. If you live in an area where it is difficult to get enough sunlight, Dr. Mercola recommends a safe tanning bed or a vitamin D3 supplement. However, there is no “magic dosage” for vitamin D, though, so you should get your vitamin D levels tested to ensure that you are within optimal and therapeutic ranges.
5. Try Coconut Oil.
Ketones, also called ketone bodies or ketoacids, are a type of substance created by your body when fat is converted into energy. Ketones “feed” your brain, reduce your risk of brain atrophy, and may also restore proper neuron and nerve function even after it has been damaged.
You can get ketones from medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil. This healthy oil contains at least 66 percent MCTs. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just two tablespoons of coconut oil will give you 20 grams of MCT – an amount enough to prevent or treat degenerative neurological diseases (link).
It is best to take coconut oil with food, so it will not upset your stomach. “My recommendation is to start with one teaspoon, taken with food in the mornings. Gradually add more coconut oil every few days until you are able to tolerate four tablespoons,” advises Dr. Mercola.
6. Optimize Your Gut Flora.
Your gut health impacts not only your brain function, but also your physical health and mental behavior. Your gut is your second brain and is heavily dependent on your diet and lifestyle.
Dr. Mercola points out a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development. Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain and is linked to your mood.
To ensure optimal gut health, he advises you to avoid processed foods and sugar, and increase your intake of traditionally fermented foods that are rich in good bacteria. He also recommends taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.
7. Avoid Vitamin B12 Deficiency.
Being deficient in vitamin B12 may lead to mental fogginess and memory problems. Recent research claims that people with vitamin B12 deficiency are more prone to getting low scores on cognitive tests. They also have a smaller total brain volume, suggesting that insufficient levels of this vitamin may affect brain shrinkage.
Another Finnish study also revealed that people who consumed B12-rich foods may reduce their Alzheimer’s disease risk during their senior years (link).
Natural vitamin B12 is available in animal food sources, such as beef, seafood, pork, chicken, milk, and eggs. If you cannot consume sufficient amounts of these foods, vitamin B12 supplementation is recommended.
8. Listen to Music.
A recent study shows that listening to music while working out may help improve cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people with coronary artery disease. The study reveals that the verbal fluency area more than doubled after listening to music, as compared to a non-music workout session.
“Listening to music has also been associated with enhanced cognitive functioning and improved mental focus among healthy adults, so take advantage of this simple pleasure whenever you can,” says Dr. Mercola.
9. Try Brain Aerobics.
The structure of neurons and the connections in between them changes as you learn, which is why you must make it a point to learn something new every day. You can do this by reading books, participating in social activities, traveling, or learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument.
You can also do brain aerobics, which are simple mind-training exercises that help improve your brain power. Mind aerobics can be as simple as doing crossword puzzles or playing intellectually-stimulating board games.
For more useful holistic tips to improve your health and well-being, read Dr. Mercola’s articles.