9 Things Experts Do Every Day for Better Brain Health
When the pace of modern life is on fast-forward and your brain is on slo-mo, you might find yourself listing the pros and cons of drinking directly from the coffeepot. But behind that thick wall of mental fog, you know caffeine is only a temporary fix that won't do your overall brain health any favors.
Adding a few brain-healthy habits to your daily repertoire could help you stay sharp and focused. As for which habits have the greatest potential to get your brain waves moving again, we got in touch with a handful of doctors and scientists who specialize in brain health to find out which habits they use personally to optimize their own—and how you can make the most of these brain-healthy habits too.
1. "I Meditate Every Morning"
"One of the daily health rituals I've used for several years is a 10- to 15-minute morning meditation practice," says Sheri Dewan, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois. "This, combined with breath work, is the best strategy for combatting the upcoming stressors and anxiety of the day."
That's because meditation has been shown to strengthen the prefrontal cortex—the region of the brain that's instrumental in processing, decision-making and planning. "This region helps with high-level performance activities, but also daily tasks," says Dewan. "It's as important a daily practice to stay focused and energized as eating a balanced diet."
Not into sitting still? You could also try a walking meditation.
2. "I Drink Green Tea"
Yuko Hara, Ph.D., a New York-based neuroscientist and director of aging and Alzheimer's prevention at the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, drinks a cup or two of green tea each morning (like this loose-leaf Japanese Sencha; $10.98 for 2 ounces on David's Tea).
"Green tea contains several compounds that may contain beneficial properties for the brain, such as caffeine, L-theanine and catechins," she says. These may help with different aspects of cognitive function, such as mood, memory and attention—and may also stave off dementia.
3. "I Eat Berries Daily"
"I eat many servings of fruit each day, especially dark-colored berries like blueberries and blackberries," says Hara. "They contain compounds called anthocyanins, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and brain-protective properties."
4. "I Load Up on Greens"
Hara makes it a habit to have vegetables with every meal and is especially diligent about adding a serving of leafy greens to her dinner plate.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuce are packed with nutrients linked to better brain health (think: vitamin E, carotenoids, flavonoids, folate) and have been shown to lower the risk of dementia and cognitive decline with as little as one serving a day, according to the National Institute on Aging.
5. "I Stick to a Sleep Schedule"
Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night is associated with optimal cognitive function. "Sleep is very important for memory consolidation," says Hara. "It's also during sleep that toxic compounds in the brain are flushed out." (Read more about how a solid sleep pattern can reduce Alzheimer's-related toxins.)
One of the ways Hara gets enough sleep is by getting up and going to bed at the same time every day; the ritual of which signals the body to fall asleep—and stay asleep—more efficiently.
6. "I Constantly Learn New Information"
"In the morning, I'll read research, listen to podcasts and do some writing for about an hour," says Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., author of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess (buy it: $19.92 on Amazon) and founder of the Neurocycle app. "This acts as a regular brain-building exercise, which 'feeds' the brain with new and challenging information (good food) that's well-digested, meaning it's deeply understood."
Building your brain means building your resilience and intelligence. "This changes the way that energy flows through the brain, optimizing its function and cognitive flexibility," says Leaf.
One great way to brain-build is to read or listen to a piece of information—say, listening to a podcast, reading an article or nonfiction book, learning about a place you're traveling to—and ask, answer and discuss what you've learned in chunks of information with yourself or a loved one.
"I personally love a good science article on the brain," says Leaf. "I read the information in small chunks with my fingers, write notes and talk aloud about what I'm learning."
7. "I Practice Yoga"
Maintaining a regular yoga practice is another of Hara's go-to moves for optimizing brain health. "Research suggests yoga has positive effects on cognitive functions, including attention and processing speed, as well as executive functions like planning and impulse control," she says.
It may also help to counteract age-related cognitive decline. "Studies have shown that, compared to nonpractitioners, people who do yoga regularly have larger volumes of frontal cortex and hippocampus, which are brain regions that are important for cognitive functions, like memory and learning," says Hara.
In terms of how often you should practice yoga to maximize the brain-health perks, there's no one-size-fits-all formula, but a minimum of once or twice a week is a great place to start.
8. "I Stay Hydrated"
Puja Aggarwal, M.D., a board-certified neurologist and epileptologist based in Orlando, Florida, drinks at least 64 ounces (8 cups) of water per day.
When you're dehydrated, your brain has to work that much harder to do even the simplest of tasks, with chronic dehydration leading to cognitive issues like poorer concentration, brain fog and moodiness.
"Drinking enough water also helps your brain remove any toxins that can impact brain cell function," says Aggarwal, who suggests keeping a large water bottle with you so you can conveniently hydrate throughout the day (like this 32-ounce one from Hydroflask, $49.99).
9. "I Carve Out Time to Think"
"Studies show neurological degradation occurring as a direct result of sleep deprivation," says Ben Spielberg, M.S., a neuroscientist and founder of TMS & Brain Health in Los Angeles. "Before I go to sleep, I give my brain at least 5 to 10 minutes to de-stress. I allow my brain to do absolutely nothing but think during this time."
Because most of us spend the whole day receiving some sort of stimulation, be it from technology, social interactions or tasks, it's important to periodically hit the brakes and give the brain time to process the events of the day.
"If I don't do this before bed, I might have a hard time falling asleep because that's exactly when my brain will want to do all of its thinking," says Spielberg.