7 Things You Can Do to Keep Your Brain Healthy

Jamie Sukroo - 16 Apr 2021

7 Things You Can Do to Keep Your Brain Healthy

I just read a great article from New Scientist detailing 7 things you can do today to keep your brain healthy:

How to keep your brain healthy: The 7 things you should do every day

If you don’t have a subscription to New Scientist and can’t read the article – below is my summary of the key points from the article:

  • Our brain requires 3 vital functions to work together seamlessly: (i) Executive Function (ability to think and reason); (ii) Social Cognition (enables us to interact successfully with others); and (iii) Emotion Regulation (through which we generate our sense of well-being).
  • A landmark study published in Nature in 2012 indicated that 75% of the change in cognitive ability across our lives is determined by lifestyle factors and only 25% by DNA!
  • “…there is no silver bullet, no quick-fix brain game or easy diet to boost brain health. It is the cumulative effect of the little things we do every day that makes the difference…” Below are the 7 practices identified in the article to keep your brain healthy:


  • 1. Look After Your Gut Bacteria:
    • “…Based on analysis of more than 1000 human stool samples and detailed clinical questionnaires, one recent study identified 69 lifestyle factors that harm our microbiome. They include high BMI, lack of exercise, erratic eating habits, stress, dehydration, poor dental hygiene, jet lag and constantly changing intimate relationships…a 10-second kiss can transfer as many as 80 million bacteria – some of which are likely to trigger an immune response such as damaging inflammation. In settled relationships, partners develop an equilibrium of gut bacteria over time…”
    • “…it also helps to feed your friendly bacteria by eating a wide array of plant-based foods…Most recently, researchers have started looking into how we might do this to improve brain health, by using our gut bacteria to help boost production of crucial hormones or neurotransmitters…”
  • 2. Practice Intermittent Fasting & Eat Healthily:
    • “…our brains evolved at a time when food was periodically scarce. For hunters back then, the shift from our bodies burning sugar in the form of glucose to burning energy released from our fat cells, known as ketosis, was inevitable….This metabolic switching could play a key role in helping to create new brain cells, or neurogenesis. Animal studies have shown a clear relationship between intermittent fasting and levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein critical to neurogenesis, particularly in the hippocampus and other centres of learning and memory. Many researchers are now studying whether intermittent fasting can help slow the pace of ageing…”
    • “…75 per cent of the world’s food is produced from only 12 plant and five animal species. This woefully homogeneous diet is in contrast to the wide array of nutrients we relied on throughout most of our evolution…In our hunter-gatherer food, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats was about 1:1. The ratio is now 20:1, largely because of processed foods that contain vegetable oil. That’s a problem because some omega-6 fatty acids may promote excess inflammation, which can limit the creation of new brain cells and accelerate the death of existing ones. By contrast, many long-term studies show that omega-3 protects the brain…a good ratio to aim for seems to be 1:4 omega-6 to omega-3, which can be achieved by consuming a wide variety of oily fish, or foods like spinach or flax seeds…”
    • vitamin D is essential. Receptors for the vitamin are found widely in the brain and low levels of it are associated with poor mental performance and cognitive decline. To get enough vitamin D, we can try “sunbathing the brain”. But for most populations living above latitude 35 degrees north or below 35 degrees south – which includes all of the UK, most of New Zealand and North America from around Washington DC upwards – it is virtually impossible to generate enough via sunlight. Unfortunately, there’s no conclusive evidence that vitamin D supplements slow cognitive decline. The best dietary sources are fatty fish, eggs, butter, liver and fortified cereals…A rule of thumb is that combining a greater variety of food and nutrient types is the best way to avoid deficiencies. That means opting for a mostly plant-based diet, as well as healthy fats, some dairy and a little fish and red meat, especially if you are over the age of 65.
  • 3. Exercise is Key – Keep Moving:
    • “…The overwhelming evidence is that aerobic exercise has beneficial effects on the brain, including improved mood and thinking skills. Like intermittent fasting, exercise reduces inflammation, which can inhibit the growth of new brain cells. Exercise actually increases neurogenesis via the release of the critical protein mentioned earlier, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)…”
    • “…To raise your BDNF levels, you need at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, things like brisk walking or cycling. If you really want to max out your BDNF, you must push that up to vigorous exercise, things like jogging or high-intensity workouts (HIIT)…”
    • “…even if we exercise daily, prolonged sedentary behaviour may wipe out the benefits… avoid sitting or adopt a more active sitting position and stand wherever and whenever possible [Stand-up desk?]. At the very least, get up out of your chair for 10 minutes in every hour…”
  • 4. Stay in Touch & Socially Connected:
  • 5. Learn a New Skill:
  • 6. Prioritise Your Sleep:
    • “…There is no more intractable health problem in modern life than sleeplessness…chronic lack of sleep not only harms our general health, it also adversely affects learning, memory, attention, decision-making and mood. It is even a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline… it simply isn’t true that we need less sleep as we get older…people over 60 still require 7 to 9 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period – though some of this can be met by napping…”
    • “…There are many things we can do to help us sleep better, but in essence they amount to trying to keep a routine bedtime, avoiding caffeine late in the day and practising good sleep hygiene – sleeping in a dark, quiet room. If we don’t, disruptive patterns – such as jet lag, constantly varying bedtimes, late-night work and irregular habits of all kinds – will conspire to blunt the brain across a lifetime. It has been demonstrated time and again that people who routinely break their circadian rhythms are at raised risk for neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. Recent studies suggest this is because it throws our body’s many clocks out of sync, undermines the production of critical neurotransmitters and can even affect the way our brain cells process energy…”
  • 7. Do What Makes You Happy & Find Your Meditation:
    • “…There’s now real evidence that emotional well-being is critical to our brain health. Many of the tens of thousands of decisions we make each day are about seeking positive experiences and avoiding negative ones – a constant search for that feeling of well-being…evidence shows that maintaining social relationships, staying active and having a sense of purpose in life all contribute to mental well-being. It has been found to reduce inflammation and biological markers of stress, and both improves cognitive function and reduces cognitive decline in later life…develop personal and work-related goals to cultivate a sense of purpose. This can be looking after friends or family, having an absorbing and demanding hobby or pastime, or striving for career goals…”
    • “…It has also been shown that people who are better able to control negative thoughts and embrace positive thinking tend to have improved executive function, general brain health and longevity…One of the keys to achieving this balance is managing stress. Many stress-reducing activities benefit brain health, including yoga, meditation, tai chi, art, music and the moderate consumption of alcohol…”
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