How to keep your brain fit and healthy

A guide to brain fitness.

brain fitness

Brain fitness is important because your brain is the most valuable asset you will ever own.

There is nothing on this earth and in this universe that comes close to the complexity of your brain.

Neuroscience doesn’t fully understand how the brain works. While we understand a lot more about the brain than ever, it still remains a mystery in many ways.

Your brain tells your lungs to breath and your heart to beat without you even thinking.

It helps you to interpret the world through your five senses allowing you to experience the human condition in all its forms.

It powers your thoughts and mindset to allow you to experience life in full. To be able to think, question, analyse, critique, love and hate.

Keeping your brain fit and healthy is the best thing you can do and it can add years to your life.

You can delay brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, increase your intelligence and develop a mindset that allows you control emotions and other primal inclinations.

The problem is, few people give their brain fitness much consideration.

Sure, they want to keep their body fit and in shape but when it comes to their brain they give little to no thought.

Why? Lack of knowledge or lack of will or a combination of both. People take the brain health for granted. That is until it begins to deteriorate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You have the power to keep your brain fit and healthy for as long as possible.

All it requires on your part is habit formation.

To find out how to do it keep reading on.

Your amazing brain

First, you need to understand how amazing your brain actually is.

The fatty organ inside your head weighs three pounds and is the most complicated device discovered in the entire universe.

Science has still yet to find anything more complex. Think about that for a moment.

There are around 86 billion neurons in the brain that need only 20 watts of power to run. By comparison, a man-made supercomputer uses 1 million watts to run 1 million neurons.

Despite weighing only two percent of total body weight it consumes 20 percent of the energy. The average brain has around 50,000 thoughts a day and 70 percent are negative.

More amazing brain stats on this site here.

Most importantly it has ‘plasticity’ which means regardless of your age you can train your brain to be better than before.

This plasticity (or neuroplasticity as it’s called) is a recent discovery in neuroscience which found the adult brain can change and grow regardless of age. Through brain training, nutrition and other things you can improve your intelligence and help avert or postpone brain diseases.

Through brain training, nutrition and other methods you can improve your intelligence and help avert or at least postpone brain diseases.

Neurons that fire together wire together

If you’re a science geek, this part is interesting. If not, skip it.

Brain cells die as we age. Like all cells.

When it comes to the brain, however, they can be replaced. Provided you’re willing to put the brain fitness work in.

When your neurons fire together they wire together creating a neural network. These are gangs of neurons that have wired together to form a ‘community’. This could be relating to an idea, concept, memory, skill, behavior or an action.

The video below shows how new neural pathways are created when neurons connect to one another. It’s pretty amazing to see.

There’s your evidence that your brain can be better at 60 than at 30. That  YOU can be better at 60 than 30.

If that doesn’t interest you then you’re reading the wrong blog. Click off and move on.

For everyone else, keep reading to find how to maximise your brain’s potential.

First of, some caveats:

Brain fitness games don’t work

Neither do brain training apps

Brain fitness for seniors is important but everyone, regardless of age, can benefit

7 Ways to keep your brain fit and healthy

Below are seven ways to keep your brain fit and healthy. Some are commonly known whereas some are a little out there. All of which are backed by science.

The realm of brain fitness is still evolving. New discoveries are being made as neuroscience continues to unwrap the puzzle of the human brain.

In years to come, there may be other methods to ensure our brain stays fit and healthy. New technologies like neuroprosthetics where technology is implanted into the brain itself are promised to enhance our brain power and abilities.

For now, that’s just a dream (or nightmare depending on who you ask) and so far these are the seven scientifically proven ways to keep your brain fit and healthy.

Meditate often to improve your brain fitness

We all know that regular meditation has many physical, psychological and cognitive benefits. It’s common knowledge that meditation can help de-stress you.

Did you know that continuous meditation helps preserve an ageing brain?

This is according to a study by UCLA which found that long-term meditators had more preserved brains (grey matter) than non-meditators. Over the course of their

Over the course of their lives, people in both groups showed cognitive decline but it was the long-term meditators who showed considerably less.

Likewise, a 2010 study showed that mindfulness meditation can increase grey matter density. In the study, 18 non-meditators between the ages 25 – 55 years old showed significant increases of grey matter after an eight-week meditation course.

If you have poor concentration and want to improve it, meditation is also found to reduce mind-wandering.

A study from the University of California found that two weeks of mindfulness training helped people focus and concentrate better than they could before.

Bottom line: Meditate often to improve your brain fitness.

You are what you eat (and drink)

brain fitness
Studies have shown that eating a Mediterranean diet (or something similar) including fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts is associated with preventing the onset of depression

Studies have shown that eating a Mediterranean diet (or something similar) that includes fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts can help with preventing the onset of depression.

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered to boost brain power but so far results have been inconclusive. The research so far says they may help children’s brains more than adults’.

Studies do show that Omega 3s are good for the heart so you should consume them while the jury’s still out on the brain benefit.

There are many health benefits of eating blueberries and because they are high in antioxidants they provide protective effects on the brain. One study found that blueberries improve memory in older adults.

Eating foods rich in vitamin B12 such as red meat, liver, fish, shellfish, eggs and cheese help ensure the brain performs as it should.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can create a range of problems including fatigue, depression and poor memory, particularly in the elderly.

Staying hydrated can help too since the brain is 73 percent water. Just two percent dehydration impairs performance in tasks that need attention and immediate memory skills.

How much water should you drink?

There is no conclusive evidence to support a certain amount. The general consensus says to aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day (and more if you’re exercising).

Alcohol has all sorts of short and long-term effects on the brain, though light to moderate consumption *may* ward off dementia.


Some health supplements can help with brain function and cognitive enhancement. These include:

  • Turmeric – According to Healthline, turmeric could be most effective nutritional substance in existence. Turmeric (or more importantly, curcumin a compound that is in it) has a number of brain health benefits.
    • Boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor
    • Improves brain function
    • Lowers risk of brain diseases
    • It may be useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease
    • Helps fight depression.
  • Vitamin B12 – If you’re eating a diet rich in animal meat then you may not need this. It’s likely vegetarians and vegans will have to supplement with it.

Bottom line: Eat and supplement with the foods listed above and drink adequate water to keep your brain functioning at the optimal level.

Challenge yourself to learn new knowledge and skills

As well as being good for your career, learning new and novel skills can enhance memory function.

A study by the University of Texas assigned 200 older people to various activities to see if any changes in the brain had occurred after 15 hours a week for three months.

The results showed the group who engaged in “cognitively demanding and novel activities” had improved memory function. More so than the control group which were assigned fun but not mentally-challenging activities.

The group with the improved memory function did so even a year after the study had finished meaning the results are long-lasting.

You should be curious or passionate about learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge.

One of the world’s leading researchers on neuroplasticity, Dr Merzenich says the brain only changes when what you’re learning new skills that are important to you.

In other words, have an interest in something and commit yourself to learning it in depth. If you lack the motivation to learn no brain change occurs.

Read the review of Mastery to understand how to push yourself in learning a new skill to achieve master status and improve your brain fitness in the process.

Routine activities don’t keep the brain challenged so it’s important to continually learn new skills and information.

In the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age it says keeping up the challenge requires going to the next level of difficulty or trying something new.

For example, video games like Tetris are good for the brain until the point where you have mastered it. After then, you’re just going through the motions.

One of the best skills to learn to keep the brain healthy is learning a new language. Better yet learn many languages as the video below explains.

Whatever new skills you learn it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is bad for memory and can induce ‘cognitive overload’ on the brain as it becomes overwhelmed and can’t take in any new information.

Don’t attempt to multitask. Hone in one thing and give it your full attention.

Bottom line: Continue to learn, educate yourself and acquire news skills right until the end. The ‘end’ may be delayed if you do.

Do intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits. One of which is it supports brain function by helping the brain create new neurons while protecting it against brain damage.

Increased cognitive performance by reducing energy intake by fasting is thought to have evolved from our hunter-gatherer days. Having not food meant that our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed to have a greater focus to find food.

As well as this, intermittent fasting increases the production of proteins in the brain called neurotrophic factors and also increases the number of mitochondria in the nerve cells. There really is no reason not to intermittent fast.

This excellent TEDx talk by neuroscientist, Mark Mattson explains it in further detail.

Run your way to brain fitness

As well as helping the body to stay healthy, you should consider running for brain health also.

Studies have found that low to moderate intensity cardio increases the hippocampus area of the brain.

In general, those that exercise regularly over a given time have greater hippocampal volume and better memory function. Physical exercise benefits brainpower in both young people and older people too.

Anyone who has experienced ‘runner’s high’ will understand the euphoric feeling of endorphins running through their bloodstream. These endorphins can elevate your mood and improve your concentration throughout the day.

What’s the best cardio exercise for an endorphin rush? Running of course.

brain fitness

Bottom line: Do cardio, and especially running, not just for fitness but to improve brain fitness too.

Smart drugs

Smart drugs are being used by students and white collar professionals to finish course papers or work longer and harder at the office.

The long-term effects of smart drugs are unknown and there are cases of abuse. It’s a grey area and because of this I’m only including the smart drug that is considered safe according to a new systematic review by Harvard and Oxford universities.

That smart drug is Modafinil.

Modafinil (also known as Provigil) was originally developed as a treatment to help narcoleptics but people have found that is has other brain-boosting benefits to non-narcoleptics too.

According to the study review, Modafinil improves attention, enhances learning and boosts fluid intelligence, which is the problem solving and creative kind of intelligence.

The review looked at all the research studies on Modafinil and cognitive function from 1990 to 2014 and concluded that it “consistently engenders enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning.”

The legality of Modafinil varies from country to country. In the U.K, people can legally buy it online so always understand any risks – both physically and legally – when considering using it.

I have taken it around five times and it doesn’t work great on me. I get the jitters even in small doses.

Also, I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet either so everything I say is informational only.

Bottom line: On some people they work, on others like me they don’t. The only way to find out is to “buy the ticket and take the ride.”

Fix your mindset

Last but in the list but the most important. If your mindset isn’t right then none of the other tactics in this post are worth doing. Your mindset is key to ensuring your brain (and life in general) stays healthy regardless of what happens to you.

Mindset is key here.

Stress is a major cause of a lot of illness. Your thoughts have weight so ensure what you’re thinking are the right things.

Bottom line: Fix your mindset and your body won’t feel any bouts of stress, anxiety and depression.

Including brain fitness into your lifestyle

Integrate all of the above into your lifestyle choices and habits and, over time, they will have a direct impact on your brain health.

Life gets more complex and we are all busy. But you must form the habits and integrate them into your life. The best time to get yourself into a habit is doing it first thing in the morning.

Like anything of value, you have to do the work and be persistent to see the value.

When it comes to my health, including my brain health, I’ll do what it takes to keep my body and brain in the best shape they can be.

Do I need to remind you, you only get one body and one brain?

The top eight daily habits to put in place to ensure your brain stays healthy

As a practical buide based on the information above, you should;

  1. Meditate at least 20 minutes per day
  2. Do 30 minutes of low to moderate cardiovascular exercise every day or, at least, every other day. Preferably running for the greater feel-good endorphin rush
  3. Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts. Place a special emphasis on including blueberries for their brain antioxidant powers
  4. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water
  5. Supplement with turmeric (and specifically 500mg of Curcumin) and Vitamin B12 daily
  6. Continue to learn new skills and challenge yourself. Pick a topic that interests you (preferably a new language, dancing or musical instrument) and pursue it
  7. Use a smart drug like Modafinil when you need to focus on a particular piece of work
  8. Do lots of introspection and work on yourself to get your mindset right

There you have it. Go ahead and conquer.

Written by Ste Davies

Ste ‘Stephen’ Davies is a freelance digital consultant, traveller, writer, podcaster and speaker based in London, UK. You can reach him here or follow him on Twitter below.

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