Making these habits part of your morning routine packs a double punch: They can ward off cognitive decline by boosting clarity and focus.
Here are five things to do in the morning to give your brain a boost:
1. Log 30 minutes of cardio
Aerobic activity is a boon for your noggin. In fact, an April 2022 review in OBJECTIVES Neurosciences found that increasing cardio led to both short-term and long-term cognitive improvements. We are talking about better executive function, attention span, information processing, learning and memory formation.
Sweating may also ward off cognitive decline as you get older: “Many age-related changes in the brain occur due to damage to blood vessels in the brain,” says Reid Kehoe, PsyD, a neuropsychologist at Northwestern Medicine. “Cardiovascular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps prevent and perhaps repair that damage.”
Here’s your goal: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, such as according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prenvetion (CDC), a half hour of brisk walking or biking five days a week. Alternatively, you can opt for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running or swimming. (Be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have limited mobility or health issues.)
Just remember that to reap the brain benefits, you need to elevate your heart rate beyond normal. Use the “talk test” to make sure you’re on target. According to the CDC, you should be able to talk but not sing during moderate-intensity exercise. For a strenuous workout, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without running out of breath.
2. Pour in a cup (or two) of Java
Wake up and smell the coffee!
It might come as no surprise if you are a coffee drinker, but a May 2021 review in I care found that caffeine can increase the processing speed of the brain and improve memory. And a review from December 2016 in Practical neurology suggests that a moderate amount of coffee (two-and-a-half cups in one sitting or five cups over the course of the day) can also boost alertness, well-being, concentration, and mood.
Filling up your cup may benefit your aging brain, too: “Coffee is thought to reduce the risk of dementia,” says Kehoe.
THE Practical neurology the review notes that it may also help protect you from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Food for thought is real. A September 2015 study in Alzheimer’s and dementia suggests that the MIND diet reduces the risk of dementia.
MIND is a blend of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet that emphasizes plant-based foods while limiting red meat, saturated fat and sugar. “It keeps blood vessels in the brain healthy,” says Kehoe.
The study found that people who ate in line with MIND slowed their cognitive decline for up to 7.5 years. According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, people who followed the diet closely also had a 53 percent lower rate of Alzheimer’s.
MIND-friendly breakfast ideas include green smoothies, oatmeal with nuts and berries, whole-grain waffles, and veggie breakfast burgers. Avoid sweet pastries and processed meats like bacon.
Sit down to a crossword puzzle, Sudoku or Wordle during breakfast. A 2017 report from the Global Council on Brain Health finds that mental challenges, brain teasers, puzzles and games can help maintain or improve cognition.
“Hobbies that keep the mind active strengthen neural pathways and connections, ensuring they’re more robust in the face of age-related brain changes,” says Kehoe.
According to the report, this leads to improved memory, attention, thinking, language and reasoning skills.
For best results, the report suggests choosing mentally stimulating activities that are new to you, that you genuinely enjoy, and that give you a challenge (think: learning to play an instrument or speak a new language). It also helps change things up (e.g. make Spelling Bee one day; a language learning app like Babbel the next).
Start the day with your team. “Research shows that social isolation is a risk factor for cognitive decline later in life,” says Kehoe. “Plus, strong social connections can also keep depression at bay to some extent.”
Case in point: a June 2022 review in Current reports on behavioral neuroscience found that loneliness increases the risk of depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, being with your crew boosts attention and memory while strengthening neural networks. So grab a morning workout partner, meet a friend for coffee before work, or call a loved one on your commute.
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