The 3 Best Things You Can Do For Your Brain, From A Neurophysiologist
Maintaining a healthy brain doesn't need to be complicated. Sure, you can learn various brain teasers, games, and whatnot, but the best things you can do for your brain are actually way more simple.
On a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, neurophysiologist Louisa Nicola, founder of Neuro Athletics, shares three basic principles you should prioritize for a healthier brain. Below, a quick summary:
"First of all, I think sleep is the most underrated high-performance tool we have," Nicola states. "It's like a sewage system or a dishwasher, if you will. It washes all of the debris and junk that accumulates during the day."
If you don't get enough sleep, your brain cannot clear out that debris, and those toxins can start to build up. "One of the proteins that builds up is amyloid beta—this is a protein that is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's1," Nicola notes.
She then explains that you should take both quantity and into account. After all, a full eight or nine hours of sleep isn't always possible, but it's more about the quality of the hours you do get. That's why Nicola recommends setting a consistent bed- and wake time, dimming the lights as you wind down (since blue light messes with your natural melatonin production), and making sure your bedroom stays cool enough. Here, you can find more expert-backed tips to catch quality Zzz's.
And while sleep trackers can be helpful, they're not essential for securing high-quality sleep. "Ultimately, you should just focus on how you're feeling when you sleep [and] when you wake up in the morning," she adds.
Now, for the equally important half of the equation: exercise. Any movement is beneficial for neurological health; however, Nicola does praise aerobic exercise and resistance training for optimal brain aging.
Aerobic exercise has also been shown to generate new neurons in the hippocampus2, or the region of the brain associated with memory, learning, and emotions.
On the other hand, resistance training offers new and exciting brain benefits, too. She explains that contracting your muscles releases certain myokines3, or muscle-based proteins, into the bloodstream.
"They go up to the blood-brain barrier, and they have an effect on different areas of our brain," Nicola shares. And some of these myokines have been shown to have neuroprotective properties4.
Not sure how often is often enough? Nicola recommends getting at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day and resistance training three times a week.
"You want to do around five exercises per muscle," she explains. If you need some workout inspiration, feel free to check out our full strength training guide.
Think of sleep and exercise as your brain health basics. Then if you want to go the extra mile, you can supplement. Nicola says that creatine and EPA/DHA (two derivatives of omega-3 fatty acids) are the most important for brain health.
"I am advocating for everyone to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA," Nicola says, as these forms help with cell membrane fluidity and overall brain health. You can find our favorite omega-3 supplements here.
As for creatine, recent research looks promising: According to a 2021 review study on creatine supplementation and brain health5, consuming the amino acid is associated with improved cognition. Another 2018 review6 found supplementing with creatine could improve short-term memory and intelligence and reasoning.
You can also opt for a brain and memory supplement, if you'd like to get specific. Regardless of which supplement you choose, "Supplement quality is by far the first thing that you need to consider," Nicola notes. She explains that sourcing and dosage are important, so don't invest in just any product you see.
Not sure where to find a trusty option? Start here with a carefully curated list of the best brain supplements on the market, all recommended by nutrition Ph.D.
If you want to support your brain health, pay attention to the basics: Prioritize quality and consistent sleep, exercise often, and take a brain health supplement if you'd like an extra boost. Simple!
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.