Mental Health

5 ways we can protect our brain from cognitive decline

Thinking about how we can better take care of our brain health and protect against cognitive decline is key, especially during midlife and beyond. This pivotal phase brings a unique set of challenges and considerations. This includes hormonal changes and lifestyle shifts, along with the usual daily stressors, all of which can impact our cognitive function.

Despite being a huge part of our overall health, our brain often doesn’t get the same airtime as our cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems.

From lifestyle adjustments to targeted habits, nurturing a resilient brain is easier than we might think. Here, we share five tangible steps that can help to enhance our brain health and protect against cognitive decline.

Why is brain health important for midlife women?

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affect women. In fact, research indicates that women are not only more likely to be affected by these conditions, but may also experience a faster progression of cognitive decline.

From around the age of 30, our cognitive health starts to gradually dip. Many factors can influence this, but poor sleep, high stress, and smoking can all play a part. As the years progress, it becomes increasingly crucial to prioritise habits that nourish our minds. Quality sleep, stress management, and abstaining from harmful habits is key to preserving cognitive vitality. 

5 ways we can protect our brain from cognitive decline

Cut down on sugar

Reducing our sugar intake isn’t just beneficial for physical health, it’s a crucial step in preserving cognitive function. Studies, such as this one from the Journal Frontiers, show that high sugar levels have been linked to inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain – both contributing factors to cognitive decline.

While the occasional sugary treat won’t do us any harm, opting for a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like berries, fatty fish, and nuts, will help to nourish our brains and promote longevity.

Focus on sleep hygiene

Quality sleep is a cornerstone of good brain health. Research from the Medical University of Lublin in Poland, states that seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night is key to ensure the neuroprotective benefits.

As well as establishing a calming pre-sleep routine and creating a comfortable sleep environment, there are other ways to ensure a restorative night’s rest. A new study from the journal Neural Regeneration Research showed that photobiomodulation (light therapy), which involves the application of wavelengths of light to body tissues, can stimulate the removal of waste products from the brain. In other words, they help to clean and sweep out the toxins from our brains, keeping them healthy.

Aim for daily socialisation

Engaging in regular social activities is more than just a pleasant pastime; it’s a powerful tool for brain health. Socialising stimulates cognitive functions, enhances emotional wellbeing, and provides a protective buffer against cognitive decline.

In a Californian study published by the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that older women who were part of large social networks reduced their risk of dementia by 26%. The study went on to reveal that daily contact with loved ones cut their risk of developing dementia by almost half. In other words, nurturing those meaningful connections with friends, family, and community, whether that’s in person or over the phone, can help contribute to the resilience of our cognitive capacities.

Factor in walking meditation

Meditation has a wealth of benefits. From improved mood to better sleep, this simple wellbeing practice can be transformative for our brains. Studies, such as this one from the Journal of Neural Plasticity, suggest that mindfulness meditation can improve cognitive function, increase grey matter density in the brain, and mitigate the effects of ageing.

There are a few forms of meditation to try, but a walking meditation can help us to cultivate a focused and resilient mind. Research shows that this particular form of meditation can be beneficial for both the brain and the body, as daily exercise also boosts cognitive functioning. Read our guide to mindful walking here.

Try wellbeing techniques such as EMDR

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), has been used to treat trauma-related disorders for years, but this particular method of therapy also shows a huge amount of promise in being able to improve brain health. The technique uses guided eye movements, which some studies, like this one from the Oxford Academic, suggest may aid in memory consolidation and cognitive processing.

Although research into this area is minimal so far, EMDR’s potential impact on cognitive function is relevant to preserving brain health. Find out more information at the EMDR Association, where there are also details of how to contact a therapist.

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