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6 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Brain Health

Learn how to minimize plaque, tangles, and inflammation in the brain.
Exercise can help improve brain health by increasing blood and oxygen to the brain.
Photo: Shutterstock

The fear of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a real concern for many. In fact, according to a study, 12.8 percent of those polled were very worried, and 41.9 percent were somewhat worried. Fortunately, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make immediately that can help you improve your brain health. World-renowned neuropathologist Alan Snow, Ph.D., president and CEO of Cognitive Clarity, a company involved in research and development of a line of memory supplements that target brain plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that accumulate during normal aging, recommends implementing the SHIELD program, which was initially discovered by Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D., a professor of neurology at Harvard University and co-founder and chief scientific advisor at Cognitive Clarity. SHIELD stands for:

Sleep

“Brain amyloid plaques develop in the brain when you are awake,” says Snow. “During sleep, new studies have demonstrated that excessive plaque buildup can be removed from the brain. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep, if you can, each night to ensure your brain can carry out this cleanup process.”

Handle stress

Although most of us understand stress isn’t good for our overall wellbeing, we don’t always understand the extent to which it is harmful. It can promote inflammation and impact memory and other brain functions. Snow recommends meditating, relaxing, and not working so hard to help reduce stress levels, which is key to promote a healthy brain.

Interact with others

Having a sense of community is vital to maintaining wellbeing. “Studies suggest that loneliness and isolation are key risk factors for development of AD,” says Snow, whose mother developed AD at age 87. He believes losing her husband after 50 years of marriage contributed to her decline. “I have learned the hard way that it is important for families to have a firm bond and loving interactions,” says Snow. “It is also good to have plenty of friends when you are getting older. Kids should be calling their parents and keeping in contact with them as they grow older. Social interaction helps reduce stress levels, as well.”

Exercise

A daily workout regime isn’t just good for the body, it’s also good for the brain. A high-intensity activity increases heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain, and makes you breathe harder, which in turn supplies more oxygen to the brain. Research shows that supplying more oxygen to the brain can increase neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons are formed. “Regular exercise three to four times per week for 30 to 45 minutes will help your body and brain in so many beneficial ways,” says Snow.

Learn new things

“Mental exercise will help you delay the onset of cognitive decline with aging,” says Snow. Although some think crossword puzzles or Sudoku are the key, Snow shares it’s more important to learn a new hobby, a new language, or a new musical instrument. “Learning new things will physically change the architecture of the brain, known as plasticity, and will help your memory in the long run,” he says. “It was taught many years ago to medical students that adult neurons, such as nerve cells in the brain, don’t divide, and you are stuck with the number of neurons that you were born with. This turned out to be mostly false, as some neurons and their connections, called synapses, were found to divide and develop and could be formed by learning new things.”

Diet

The Mediterranean diet, which features the daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil, has long been credited as one of the healthiest diets in the world. According to Snow, it appears to benefit the brain the most. Fruits, especially blueberries, strawberries, elderberries, and other fruits high in polyphenols and proanthocyanidins seem to be key; vegetables; nuts, such as cashews, almonds, and peanuts; olive oil; fish, including salmon; dark chocolate, which also has polyphenols and proanthocyanidins; a glass of red wine with polyphenols; and cutting down on red meat is important for brain health,” he says. 

New Developments in Brain Health Research

Having researched brain health, memory, cognition, brain plaques and tangles, and Alzheimer’s Disease for approximately 30 years, Snow is heartened by the fact that there have been amazing advances in the past five to 10 years. “I remember when I first started in the field, there weren’t even any good models to recapitulate what is going on in the aging and AD brain,” says Snow. “Now there are excellent advances in the field including PET imaging where you can actually visualize the plaque and/or tangle load in the brain of a living patient to determine whether they’re moving towards AD.”

According to Snow, one of the breakthroughs is the knowledge that not all people with plaque and tangles will develop clinical symptoms of memory loss. What differentiates them from others who do experience symptoms is the lack of neuroinflammation, which is inflammation in the brain. “Neuroinflammation in the brain is now the third and important driving force that accelerates memory loss, besides the brain accumulation of plaques, which look like giant Swedish meatballs in the brain and tangles, which look like dried up spaghetti inside of neurons. The trilogy of memory loss is now plaques, tangles, and inflammation in the brain.

After watching his mother’s cognitive decline due to AD, Snow was motivated to develop a nootropic that specifically targets brain plaques and tangles in the normal aging brain. “This led to my discovery in the last 10 year pertaining to a plant extract from the Amazon rainforest, called cat’s claw, that has the ability to markedly reduce brain plaques, tangles, and inflammation,” says Snow. “We are doing much more research in this area in the next few years, including human clinical trials, but we’ve already published two major articles in 2019 and 2021 in the medical journal, Scientific Reports, that demonstrates our exciting and novel findings.”     

About The Author
Heather-Mikesell-author-1

Heather, co-founder of Well Defined and the former editor-in-chief of American Spa, is an award-winning journalist and content strategist, skilled in writing, copyediting, and media relations. She is also a freelance writer and has contributed to Elite Traveler, Islands, Kiwi, Luxury Travel Advisor, Organic Spa, Porthole Cruise, Travel Agent, abcnews.com, jetsetter.com, outside.com, and wellandgood.com, in addition to various custom publications. She is frequently called upon to comment on various spa and wellness trends for various media outlets.