It's 2020, and we're calling it: The most exciting conversation in aging has little to do with how to look as young as possible—and everything to do with extending our health spans.
Of course, keeping our minds sharp day to day—and ultimately over time—is a big part of healthy aging. If you're feeling mentally fatigued, low on creativity, high on forgetfulness, and like you're constantly maxing out your bandwidth, read on. Below are six habits that have been shown to help boost cognition, learning, and more:
1. Just say no to multitasking.
We're all guilty of bombarding our attention with more than one task at a time—and it's not doing our brains any favors. Not only does multitasking tend to backfire and take a toll on productivity, but extensive research into the effect of multitasking has shown that doing it messes with focus, hinders our ability to learn, and can even alter brain structure in areas responsible for empathy and emotional control.
2. Eat (or supplement) brain-healthy nutrients.
Certain foods like walnuts, dark leafy greens, avocados, and blueberries have all been linked to better brainpower, particularly in mental tasks like concentration and memory. A 2017 study showed that eating a Mediterranean diet—which is rich in olive oil, fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish—may protect against memory decline as we age.
But even if you're not ready to commit to an entire diet, you're still in luck: "A fish oil supplement naturally contains high levels of omega-3s, including DHA and EPA," says Brittany Michels, M.S. RDN, LDN. "It's one of the most researched supplements, and omega-3 consumption shows links to brain health." According to the research, "higher concentrations of omega-3 fats in the brain appear to have a protective effect against age-related cognitive decline and brain atrophy—which is a reduction in brain size," adds Rebekah Blakely, RDN.
Formulated to deliver the omega-3s associated with supporting brain health, a daily Premium Wild Alaskan Fish Oil capsule from Vthrive™ The Vitamin Shoppe brand combines 825 mg of EPA and 275 mg DHA (full-spectrum omega-3 derived from fresh, U.S.-sourced fish) with 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 for a high-quality targeted supplement that you can feel good adding to your routine every day.
3. Stick to your exercise routine.
Turns out, a year of exercise can do more than keep your body fit. Based on extensive research in older adults, one year of regular exercise can increase hippocampal volume by 2%—we're talking the part of your brain responsible for storing long-term memories. Between the ages of 30 and 80, the hippocampus shrinks in size—aka brain atrophy—which scientists point to as the main reason older adults suffer from memory loss. The research shows that regular exercise can help slow or even reverse this.
4. Make sleep a daily priority—and get enough of it.
To put it simply, your brain needs sleep and cannot function properly without it. Specifically, sleep deprivation negatively affects your cognition, concentration, productivity, and mental performance. Each stage of sleep is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity—you could even think of sleep as nightly housekeeping, forming and strengthening the pathways in your brain that help you learn and create memories, as well as cleaning out some of the stress-related toxicity built up in the brain over the course of the day. It's no wonder that on the flip side, getting quality sleep (at least six or seven hours a night for adults) has been shown to sharpen both problem-solving skills and memory.
5. Keep learning new things.
The idea behind neuroplasticity is that "keeping our brains guessing," so to speak, is a good thing because it helps rewire our brains and build new neural pathways, which in turn helps us learn faster and better. Stay mentally stimulated by learning a new skill or language, taking courses that involve mental dexterity or help unleash your creativity, reading a different genre than you're used to, playing cards, and of course, solving or literally piecing together puzzles!
6. Stay socially connected.
This is a big one. Maintaining deep, rich friendships actually has a positive impact on brain health—not just your mental health. According to neuroscientists, having that sense of belonging within a community and being socially connected protects the brain against the risk of developing dementia. As if you really needed any more convincing to unplug and spend time enjoying your best, closest relationships.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.