Patrick Schwarzenegger & Maria Shriver Share Their Top 5 Brain Health Tips
Patrick Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have experienced firsthand what Alzheimer's does to patients and their families—and they are not alone. An estimated six million people1 were affected by the disease in 2020, and that number is projected to skyrocket to 14 million by 2060. And yet, Alzheimer's disease still does not get the recognition and research it deserves, so Schwarzenegger and Shriver have made it their mission to raise awareness. Enter, MOSH (which stands for Maria Owings Shriver Health), their nutrition company committed to creating conversation around brain health education for those of all ages. Because, yes, you can enhance your brain health in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.
"You are in the driver's seat. There are things you can do today that will impact your brain health tomorrow, or next year, or five years down the road," Schwarzenegger says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Here, the mother-son duo share their nonnegotiable habits to nurture their brains:
We'll start with diet, as fueling your brain with the nutrients it loves can help enhance its function over time. Both Shriver and Schwarzenegger praise the MIND diet—a blend of the DASH and Mediterranean diets—which prioritizes berries, nuts, fish, and tons of leafy greens. You can read all about the nutritious eating plan here, but just know that it's associated with better cognitive performance2.
Even if you don't follow the MIND diet to a T, Schwarzenegger advises you opt for "something that is very low in sugar and has nutritious, healthy fats." Fill your plate with our favorite brain-supporting foods, and perhaps lend a critical eye to your packaged food labels. You see, it's not impossible to find snacks that taste good and contain clean ingredients: MOSH protein bars, for example, contain a blend of specific ingredients known for their brain-supporting properties, like lion's mane, ashwagandha, MCTs, omega-3s, collagen, and vitamins B12 and D3.
Of course, when you eat matters just as much as what you consume. "Having a break with [time-restricted eating] is very beneficial," notes Schwarzenegger. In fact, some researchers suggest3 that intermittent fasting can prolong the health span of the nervous system and enhance cognitive function; other research suggests the ketones generated during a fasted state have a neuroprotective effect. Plus, plenty of people anecdotally claim they have more mental energy and focus when they give their digestive system a break.
"I do maybe 12 to 14 hours," Schwarzenegger says of his fasting schedule, while Shriver can tackle a 16- to 18-hour fast from time to time. Regardless of her actual eating window, she always tries to avoid eating late at night: "It's better not to eat right up to when you go to bed because when you go to sleep, that's when your brain can clear," she says.
Do not underestimate the power of meditation practice. "I practice [meditation] every morning, and I try to do it in the afternoon," says Shriver. "That has also been shown to be really beneficial to the brain." One 2011 study found that after just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training, participants had a significant increase in the thickness of the hippocampus (aka, the brain region responsible for learning and memory). Here's how to start a regular meditation practice if you're new to the scene.
"Exercise, exercise, exercise," says Shriver. It's the No. 1 piece of advice she hears from doctors and brain health experts, "because it builds brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It gets your body going and pumps blood into the brain." BDNF is a protein that improves learning, memory, and higher thinking by stimulating the growth of new neurons and helping existing neurons stay alive—and research shows exercise increases its levels4.
"Now when I exercise, I think about balance. I think about independence. I think about my brain," adds Shriver. "I don't think about losing weight—I think about building strength."
A beginner's mindset.
Purpose is paramount for brain health. And as you grow older, neuroscientists say it becomes even more important to challenge the brain around your purpose. That's why Shriver constantly steps out of her comfort zone—for example, she loves to sit in production meetings for MOSH. "Continue to learn [and] see yourself in a beginner's mindset," she explains. "I'm learning a different skill set than I did for journalism or politics… See yourself as someone who's connected and in community."
The lifestyle choices you make today can have a huge impact on your brain health, even years down the road. The good news is, it doesn't take much to implement Shriver and Schwarzenegger's brain-healthy habits—in fact, you might already tick a few boxes.