5 Habits that Improve Cognitive Function

5 Habits that Improve Cognitive Function

Expanding our intellectual capabilities and protecting our brains have become one of the most popular endeavors of our time. More and more research is showing us how to maximize and enhance the capabilities of our beautiful brains. Many of the same habits that ensure your physical health will also ensure your brain health, but here are some other habits that may surprise you. This list isn't comprehensive. They're the habits that will give you the most significant results, but you should continue to explore how to build a healthy brain. 

Related: Best Drinks for Focus: Top 8 Drinks to Help You Focus

5 Habits that Improve Cognitive Function

Here are five habits that can improve your thinking, memory, and learning, and protect your brain's health. 

1 Exercise

There appears to be a direct line between consistent physical activity and brain health. People who regularly exercise have better memory, learning, greater brain volume, and reduced risk of dementia. One study found that regular physical activity helped to alleviate age-related cognitive decline. Test results of the older adults in this study showed that they had the mental capacity of people ten years their junior. This and other studies show that exercise is an effective nonpharmaceutical intervention for the prevention of age-related cognitive decline or neuro-degenerative diseases.  

The increased blood flow to the brain may be why exercise is so effective for improving cognitive function. It may also generate new neurons (brain cells) in the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. This area shrinks with age, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. 

Of course, as we extol the virtues of regular exercise, we don't include sports that may actually cause brain damage like football, hockey, or rugby. The heavy, frequent, and violent contact in these sports and others like them can cause brain damage and dementia. 

2 Coffee

Happy news for coffee-lovers everywhere - coffee can improve your cognitive function! Aside from the caffeine keeping you awake and alert by blocking adenosine receptors (hindering sleep) and stimulating the central nervous system, coffee also reduces your risk of depression and neurodegenerative diseases. 

Coffee consists of hundreds of bioactive compounds that have many health benefits:

  • Chlorogenic acids
  • Caffeine
  • Cafestol and Kahweol
  • Trigonelline

Caffeine works by increasing resting brain entropy. Brain entropy is associated with brain function - the higher the entropy, the more brain processing. Also, its work on the central nervous system boosts the release of other neurotransmitters, including dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. This can affect your reaction times, mood, attention, and vigilance. 

Related: Drinks for Brain Power: 10 Brain-Boosting Drinks 

3 Supplements

There are vitamins and minerals that your brain needs to be efficient. For instance, vitamin B12 is critical to your central nervous system, but you could suffer memory loss if you don't have enough of it. Vitamin D is also vital for brain health, and a deficiency is linked to cognitive decline. If you're a menstruating woman, you know how essential iron is to your body and brain. While supplements are one way to get your essentials, eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals is the best. 

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Woman learning to play chess

4 Curiosity & Creativity

Curiosity and creativity are terms we associate with childhood, but habitually expressing these will improve cognitive function. Musical training improves brain function as it causes connectivity between different regions of your brain. It has been found to increase your brain's volume and enhances communication between brain areas.   

Playing a musical instrument affects how your brain interprets and uses sensory information, especially if you began when you were quite young. A 2013 study demonstrated that reading, writing, and playing brain-stimulating activities preserve memory, support neuroplasticity, and improve overall brain function.  

5 Mindful Meditation

The cognitive benefits of mindful meditation are well-known to its practitioners. Although much of the evidence is anecdotal, clinical research has also provided proof of these benefits. Meditation has been associated with increased brain volume in the cerebral cortex and less volume in the amygdala (fear and anxiety center). It also improves focus and connections between brain areas and provides an overall sense of peace and calm. 

Bonus Tips

In addition to the above tips, here are a few bonus habits that can improve your cognitive function. 

Social Connections

Research shows that social isolation and feelings of loneliness can trigger cognitive decline. A lack of social connections causes interrupted sleep, high blood pressure, stress, depression, altered gene expression in immune cells, and a lack of a sense of well-being. While most of these conditions aren't associated with your brain, together, they can cause less than optimal brain function. 

Social connections are vital to our brain health and highest functioning. It stimulates memory and attention and strengthens neural networks. 

Better Sleep

Your brain needs sleep to consolidate memories. Quality sleep will provide the energy required for this big job, allowing your brain to work without distraction. One 2014 study found that poor quality sleep was associated with decreased gray matter volume, which helps to regulate executive function and working memory. This study further found that lack of good sleep is associated with decreased gray matter volume in the entire brain. 

Openness to New Experiences

Yet another study shows how learning new and demanding skills while engaging in social connections can keep your brain healthy and alert. For the activity or experiences to aid brain function improvement, they must be demanding, challenging, or unfamiliar. Easy word puzzles and semi-challenging brain teasers were found not to be especially effective. You must be well out of your ease to gain maximum cognitive enhancement

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Last Word

Our brains are fascinating. It's exciting to think about what you can do to ensure that age does not rob you of clear thinking, memories, and learning. Your brain is capable of being strong for the extent of your life, so it's up to you to do whatever you can to protect and nourish it. 

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