Brain health can seem complicated. How are you supposed to tell when your brain is healthy? It's easy to know when your digestion is off or when your skin needs attention, but what exactly are the signs that a brain needs a bit more loving?
Signs you need to take better care of your brain can be seen across your body and felt in your emotional regulation, cognitive function, and sleep. After all, brain health is personal wealth, and we could all do more to proactively nurture this vital organ. No matter how old you are, caring for your brain should be a top priority.
Supporting your brain throughout life.
Regardless of what stage of life you're in, it's essential to nurture your brain. Brain health involves cognitive function, mental resilience, emotional regulation, and myriad other facets of mental well-being.
Whether it's a weekly crossword, a daily Wordle, or a brain-boosting nootropic supplement, there are many ways to give your brain extra love.* And when your brain is happy, you'll be happy.
- Your attention in your 20s
- Your memory in your 30s
- Your executive functioning in your 40s and beyond
Of course you'll want to tap into the fullness of attention, memory performance, and executive functions at all ages, but special brain focus areas by decade might be a useful strategy for some.
Supporting your brain health can also mean taking time to socialize and see loved ones regularly. Finding purpose and connecting with others, especially in later years, is a core component of the lifestyles of the longest-living people in Blue Zones. Isolation1 is unfavorable to mental well-being and overall brain health.
Brain health doesn't have to be complicated. For people of all ages, eating well, sleeping well, and continuing to learn—whether in a classroom or elsewhere—can contribute to a happy and healthy mind.
Just ask Patrick Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, founders of MOSH—a nutrition company that sells adaptogenic protein bars, advocates for women's brain health (a drastically under-researched area of health science), and spreads awareness about brain longevity. The mother-son duo recently came on the mindbodygreen podcast to share how they prioritize their brain health. (Hint: Intermittent fasting, meditation, and a beginner's mindset all come into play.)
But how can you tell if your brain is healthy? Your body could be telling you your brain needs a little extra love, and you might not even know it.
Here are some signs that you might need to be more intentional about supporting your brain.
11 signs you need to take better care of your brain:
- You forget things more often than you'd like.
- You're having trouble making decisions.
- You haven't been able to connect as much with your favorite people.
- Your sleep has been suffering.
- You get frustrated easily.
- You're feeling a little more sensitive than usual.
- You crash midday.
- Your motivation has been low.
- Thinking just feels harder.
- You can't focus.
- You're struggling to manage your stress effectively.
8 ways to nurture your brain health.
"Your brain function is a marker of health, so when your brain isn't working right, the first thing to do is go back to the foundations: what you're eating, how you're exercising, and how well you're connecting with others and fulfilling a purpose in life," shares functional medicine practitioner Stacie Stephenson, D.C., CNS.
Let's look at some of these foundations and other specific ways we can nurture our brains:
Take a brain-supporting supplement.
Take a brain performance supplement like mbg's brain guard+. With premium, clinically researched brain health neuronutrients citicoline, kanna, and resveratrol, this advanced nootropic formula proactively supports neurotransmitter production and blood flow to the brain, enhances processing speed and memory, and promotes mental clarity and brain longevity (i.e., your brain span).*
As mbg's vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, "Whether you're 25 or 75, we at mindbodygreen thoughtfully formulated brain guard+ with your brain span top of mind. This is the latest in nootropic technology to sharpen your mind and flex your brain each day."*
Eat brain-supporting foods.
Try adding more brain-supporting nutrients—like omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA), B vitamins, vitamin D, and vitamin C—to your diet to optimize your cognitive function and promote mental well-being. Foods like fatty fish, leafy greens, dark chocolate, and even rosemary can provide micronutrients and phytonutrients you need to foster a healthy brain.
To add some flavor to your brain foods, check out nutritional psychiatrist Uma Naidoo, M.D.'s favorite brain-supporting sauces (which include curry leaf and carrot yogurt sauce, a miso sauce, and kale and walnut pesto).
Interested in incorporating even more brain foods into your daily meals? Try the Mediterranean diet: A 2020 Experimental Gerontology study found that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet supports cognitive function2 among healthy older adults.
Get adequate sleep.
Move your body.
In fact, five minutes is more than you need! Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., neuroscientist and author of Move the Body, Heal the Mind, says two minutes of movement after 30 minutes of sitting is all it takes to re-oxygenate the brain and get those vital nutrients flowing back into it.
According to Stephenson, exercise also increases the levels of a memory-improving protein4 in your brain. "When you exercise, you release BDNF (that's brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which has a revitalizing effect on neurons and improves brain function as well as mood," she says.
Challenge your brain.
Here's your sign to start doing more puzzles and playing more games (yes, really!). Completing crossword and number puzzles is particularly beneficial for older adults, but anyone that does them regularly will experience better memory, reasoning, and attention. Incorporating more brain-healthy activities into your schedule is as simple as Tuesday-night Scrabble games and early mornings with a new book.
We've all become more aware of the incredible benefits of meditation, but this mindfulness practice doesn't just help keep you calm—it supports your brain health, too. A 2011 Psychiatry Research study found that gray matter concentration increased in participants' brains after just eight weeks of meditation.
Think yourself younger.
Sergey Young, longevity expert, founder of the Longevity Vision Fund, and author of The Science and Technology of Growing Young, believes that thinking you're younger helps your body work better. And, he's right.
A 2018 Frontiers study found that people who felt younger than their biological age had more gray matter5 in their brains. Young recommends trying this morning mantra: "I'm going to live for 200 years in a 25-year-old body and mind."
Connect with others.
Finding connection and purpose is more important to brain longevity than you might think. "A happy, supported, fulfilling life with strong social connections and meaningful work has been proven to contribute to a healthy brain. When you feel happy, fulfilled, and loved, and you have a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning, your brain will thrive," Stephenson shares.
Supporting your brain health through all the stages of your life is important. But proactively caring for your brain doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, it might be the most fun part of your body to care for—especially when nurturing your cognitive health means more puzzles, games, time with friends and family, and youthful morning mantras.
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.