The signs of physical aging tend to be pretty obvious—hair thins and/or turns grey, joints get creaky, muscles start to lose their definition. But when it comes to the impact of growing older on your brain, things aren’t always so clear. Maybe the right word is always just on the tip of your tongue, or you can’t contribute in meetings the way you used to. Maybe you find yourself losing your keys on a regular basis or forgetting details about past events. The changes may be subtle, but the brain experiences age-related deterioration just like the rest of your body.
The good news is, just as you can make lifestyle choices that help keep you physically fit (some of which I write about here), you can also take steps to keep your brain healthy by strengthening your thinking ability. Here are five tricks to faster thinking.
1. Exercise Regularly
The fact that physical activity benefits your body is a no-brainer (ha ha), but it can also have a significant impact on cognitive function. As Peter J. Snyder, professor of neurology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, told Parade, “Recent research has convincingly shown us that a regular program (such as fast-paced walking for 30 minutes, three times per week, for just six months) leads to the growth of brain cells and their connections in parts of the brain that are critically important for learning and memory.”
2. Avoid Distractions
You’re never going to do your best thinking when your attention is split. WikiHow recommends closing any unnecessary windows on your computer—including your social media accounts—when working to improve your ability to focus. If you think your ability to multitask exempts you from this suggestion, think again. According to Forbes, research indicates multitasking makes you less productive, lowers your IQ, and may even damage your brain. I also recommend turning off alerts – these are designed to distract. Do you really need to know the exact moment someone comments on your Facebook post? Better yet, turn your phone off or to silent and then leave it somewhere out of sight. Having it within view actually forces your brain to actively ignore it (oh, the temptation!) – wasting precious energy that could be better spent on whatever you’re supposed to be doing.
3. Fuel Your Brain
Eating well isn’t just about maintaining a healthy physique. Your brain needs a variety of nutrients to function properly.
- Try eating fatty fish like salmon a couple of times per week to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA, which are critical for neurological development and function.
- Make sure to consume a variety of colorful veggies and fruits, which are rich in antioxidants that protect your brain cells from damage.
- You probably don’t need scientific proof that a cup of coffee can really clear the cobwebs from your brain, but plenty of studies support your experience. In one experiment looking at the effects of coffee consumed at different times of the day and night, caffeinated coffee had a beneficial effect on alertness and improved performance on a variety of tasks no matter when it was consumed, and “the effects were often very large.”
4. Consider Supplements
While you can do a lot to keep your brain healthy by eating well, supplements can help fill in gaps and give you an added boost. Nootropics (also known as “smart drugs”) are gaining popularity for their ability to enhance cognition. Here are a couple of my favorite natural nootropics. See my post here for more on the best supplements for brain health.
A compound found in black and green tea, L-theanine is great for improving focus without the jittery (and potentially serious) side effects of stimulants like Adderall. When paired with caffeine, it works synergistically to increase memory and improve reaction time.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS)
You may not have heard of phosphatidylserine (PS), but Dr. Axe says it’s present in every one of your body’s cells and is a vital building block for your brain. Research indicates supplementing with PS derived from cows may help reduce the cognitive decline that often accompanies aging.
5. Get Some Sleep
Ever had one of those days when you’re so tired you can barely form a coherent sentence? Then you understand how important adequate rest is for brain function. Unfortunately, one in three adults isn’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis according to a study conducted by the CDC in 2016. If you’re having a hard time sleeping but aren’t sure what to do, check out my tips on how to sleep better and deeper.
You have the power to strengthen your thinking ability. For more tricks, tips, and health hacks, sign up for my newsletter:
About Myles Spar, MD
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher