What is Cognitive Health And Why Is It Important?
By Sara Novak
- The 4 Key Aspects of Cognitive Health
- Causes of Cognitive Decline
- How to Prevent Cognitive Decline
Table of Contents:
- What Is Cognitive Health?
- Causes Of Poor Cognitive Health
- Cognitive Health & Mental Health
- Diseases Associated With Poor Cognitive Health
- How To Prevent Cognitive Health Decline
Our cognitive health just means our brain’s cognition. It is tied to every aspect of our lives and to both our physical and mental health. Taking care of yourself overall means taking your cognitive health into account. From exercise to diet to supplements to meditation, protect your brain and you’ll be happier and healthier for it. Not sure how to improve your cognitive health? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Cognitive Health?
Cognitive health involves the healthy functioning of the brain. According to the National Institute of Aging, cognitive health has four important parts to it.
How you think, learn, and remember
Motor function or balance
Causes Of Poor Cognitive Health:
Not surprisingly, cognitive health is tied to your overall health. If you take care of your brain, you are also taking care of your body. Here is what you need to know:
- High alcohol intake
- Medications - Some medications, for example, sleep aids, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, and antidepressants, have been linked to poor cognitive health later in life.
- Brain injuries - Avoid sports that can cause brain injuries. Wear the proper equipment if you do play rough sports and seek medical attention if you think that you have gotten a brain injury.
- Poor diet - Choose a diet full of unprocessed foods including fruits, organic meats, tubers, ghee, MCT oil, etc.
- Stress - Anxiety and depression are causes of cognitive decline, so it is so important to treat the stress that causes these diseases ahead of time.
- Social isolation - Those of us that are surrounded by friends and family more often are less likely to fall victim to cognitive decline compared to those who are socially isolated.
Cognitive Health & Mental Health:
Cognitive health is important to your quality of life as you age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “a healthy brain is one that can perform all the mental processes that are collectively known as cognition, including the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering.”
Our cognitive health is also tied to our mental health because of our emotional and sensory responses. Not to mention the fact that neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia often have an impact on depression and anxiety disorders. According to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease “depression is common in people with Alzheimer's disease affecting overall outcomes and decreasing quality of life.”
Diseases Associated With Poor Cognitive Health
As you age and even before that, a number of neuro-degenerative diseases can occur if you have poor cognitive health.
Alzheimer’s disease - Alzheimer’s disease is a disease caused by a buildup of amyloid plaque on the brain. It starts slowly but progresses into a disease where the patient has no long-term memory and requires full time care. It is responsible for 60-70 percent of dementia cases. It is thought to be caused by genetics, high blood pressure, head injury, and depression.
Dementia - Dementia is a more general term for memory loss and cognitive decline. There are a variety of types of dementia that fall under this umbrella term. But dementia is a common cause of disease in the senior years and it can be a huge financial strain on families that are forced to pay for full time care.
Brain injuries - Concussions and other brain injuries can damage the brain either all at once or a little at a time. If you experience a concussion, seek medical attention immediately and do not just ignore the problem.
How To Prevent Cognitive Health Decline:
Not to worry, you can take a number of steps to improve your cognitive health and make sure that it is in tip top condition as you age. Here is what you need to know:
Sleep is closely linked to cognitive health. As an adult, you need to be getting 7-9 hours of sleep nightly because while you sleep, your brain cleans itself and specifically the amyloid proteins that can cause Alzheimer’s disease as you age. If you are not getting enough sleep, then your brain is not doing enough of this important house cleaning. This is also the time your brain culls itself of the memories that it no longer needs in order to make room for new memories. It is also when the brain turns short term memories into long-term memories. Research has shown that those who do not get enough sleep have less memory retention because there is not enough time to turn short term memories into long term memories.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it is worth taking real steps to improve your sleep hygiene as it is so important to cognitive health. At night, avoid eating heavy foods, watching emotional television or reading disturbing books, take a warm bath, exercise earlier in the day instead of before bed, or consider slow yoga and meditation before bed.
2. Eat For Longevity
Certain diets have been tied to better cognitive health and more longevity. Your diet has been shown to be closely linked to your longevity. Choose healthy protein sources like organic meats, enjoy ample fruits with all of their polyphenols and antioxidants and eat tons of tubers, which have been shown to keep the brain from aging. Eat unprocessed foods without added sugars, preservatives, colorings, or other additives. If you drink alcohol do so moderately and choose organic and biodynamic wines when you do.
Meditation has been shown to strengthen the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain that is linked to concentration. As you age, strengthening your brain through meditation has been shown time and time again to improve cognitive health. A study published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience found that “mindfulness meditation - practiced widely for the reduction of stress and promotion of health - exerts beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Recent neuroimaging studies have begun to uncover the brain areas and networks that mediate these positive effects.”
Meditation does not have to be complicated. Simply set a timer on your phone, close your eyes, and follow your breath. Try and practice for the same amount of time daily and once you have mastered that length of time, extend it for a few minutes.
Read More: The Benefits of Meditation
4. Stress Management
Stress management is an important aspect of protecting your cognitive health. Meditation is a good start for many, but there are also other tools to consider. These include:
- Deep breathing - Deep breathing is helpful to prepare you to sit for meditation and it is also helpful just by itself. Inhale for 1-2-3 and hold for 1-2-3, exhale for 1-2-3. Sometimes, extending the exhale so that it is longer than the inhale can help deepen the relaxation.
- Yoga - Yoga is a really important practice for balancing your endocrine system and also hormones, which can impact your emotional health. This can be a helpful tool for stress management. Yoga is also really important to promote good balance as you age. Standing balance poses like tree pose are not extremely advanced, but they go a long way in staving off the balance issues that can be a product of mental health decline as we age.
- Do What You Love - Do the things that bring you satisfaction, whatever they are. Whether it’s travel, surfing, skateboarding, kiteboarding, qigong, cooking, it does not matter the activity. Just doing what brings you happiness is a great form of stress relief.
- Seek Professional Help If You Need it - Do not be afraid to talk to a professional if you are feeling overwhelmed. Talk therapy has been shown to improve mental and stress management outcomes. Take the time to choose a counselor whom you feel comfortable with and are able to open up to.
5. Mucuna Pruriens
Mucuna Pruriens is well known for increasing dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps with brain function and mental health. It is associated with the “pleasure centers” of the brain. Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume native to Africa. Research published in the journal AYU (An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda) found that the extract reduced depression likely due to its impact on the “dopaminergic system.” Dopamine promotes increased well-being, focus, enjoyment, and interest in life. It is what makes us feel happy and content.
Mucuna pruriens contains 20 percent L-DOPA extract which is the immediate precursor of dopamine. This helps supply he body with what it needs to make this important neurotransmitter and has been used for thousands of years in the traditional Ayurvedic system. If you're interested in increasing your dopamine levels, make sure to check out our Mucuna Pruriens supplement:
Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive health throughout your life. Exercise, it turns out, is good for your brain.
- A study published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging found that “exercise programs that are structured, individualized, higher intensity, longer duration, and multicomponent show promise for preserving cognitive performance in older adults.”
- Another study published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences shows that physical exercise in animal models improves spatial learning and memory and the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in neuroplasticity.
- A study published in the journal Neural Plasticity found that “physical exercise was effective for increasing the production of neurotrophic factors, cell growth, and proliferation, as well as for improving brain functionality.”
- Another study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that exercise improved memory in the elderly, especially those at risk for dementia. Federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise each week.
If you are not an exerciser, start with walking a few minutes a day and then keep adding on to the time. Choose an activity that you love like swimming, surfing, pilates, and the list goes on. It is a lot easier to commit to an exercise routine if you are doing something that you love on a regular basis.
7. Keep Learning
You should always be learning. Those who learn new languages have been shown to enjoy improved cognitive health, as have those that read and write often. Push your brain to its limits on a regular basis because the larger your brain forest, or the dendrites in your brain, the better your brain health. Memory games are also tools that can be helpful in building and sustaining memory retention. Word puzzles, crosswords, and sudoku are a good place to start.
Building your social network as you age is so important to improving cognitive health. Those that are socially isolated forget how to flex their social muscles, which has a negative impact on cognitive health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “socializing not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. In-person is best, but connecting via technology also works.”
9. Manage High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure in midlife is not just tied to poor cardiovascular health, it is also linked to poor cognitive health in old age. And it increases your risk of having a stroke. According to the National Institute of Aging, “decades of observational studies have shown that having high blood pressure in midlife — the 40s to early 60s — increases the risk of cognitive decline later in life. In addition, the SPRINT-MIND study, a nationwide clinical trial, showed that intensive lowering of blood pressure (even below the previous standard target of 140 for systolic blood pressure) lowers the risk for mild cognitive impairment, which is a risk factor for dementia.”
If you're interested in learning how you can naturally lower your blood pressure through your diet, make sure to check out our article, "The Lifestyle Guide To Boosting Blood Flow Naturally