The brain starts developing at conception and continues to grow until a person turns 21 years old – or so it was long believed. But brain growth doesn’t stop at that age. You can create new brain cells as you age, but only if you maintain an optimal environment for neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the process by which neural stem cells (NSCs) differentiate into mature neurons. This plays a crucial role in neural plasticity and in the repair and replacement of cells that are damaged by the normal aging process and neurodegenerative diseases.
A healthy brain for life in just 10 steps
Here are several things you can do to support neurogenesis and lifelong brain health:
Avoid foods high in saturated fat and refined sugars – Foods high in saturated fat and refined sugars promote oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, which creates a poor environment for continued neurogenesis.
Eat healthily – On that note, add more dark green leafy veggies, berries, cruciferous vegetables, grapes, as well as foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as Brazil nuts, chia seeds flaxseed, and walnuts to your diet. These foods help create an environment optimal for the formation of new brain cells.
Eat a piece of dark chocolate daily – Dark chocolate contains flavanols that are absorbed and accumulated in brain regions responsible for learning and memory. Flavanols also increase the blood flow to the brain, which promotes new cell formation and enhances connections between neurons. For best results, choose high-quality dark chocolate that's at least 70 percent cocoa.
Meditate daily – Meditation helps increase gray matter density in various brain regions, including the hippocampus. Practicing meditation may increase melatonin levels, which support neurogenesis. Stress, anxiety, and depression limit neurogenesis; these can be reduced through meditation, which will help form new brain cells.
Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day – Exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell line-derived trophic factor (GDNF) – which both support neurogenesis. Testosterone levels also increase during exercise, which also has a positive effect on neurogenesis and inhibits the effects of psychological stress. (Related: Get moving, your brain needs it – study.)
Practice intermittent fasting – Intermittent fasting increases synaptic plasticity, promotes neuron growth, lowers risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and boosts cognitive function, according to the Society for Neuroscience. During fasting, levels of leptin – a hormone produced by fat – decline. As a result, the brain receives a chemical signal for neurons to produce more energy.
Get enough sleep – During sleep, the brain forms memories, removes toxins, repairs cells, and replenishes. On the contrary, sleep deprivation reduces neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Long-term sleep deprivation can impair brain function and contributes to the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. This highlights the importance of getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night. If you find it hard to get good sleep, try creating a bedtime ritual, have a sleep schedule, drink some sleep-inducing tea, or make your room as dark as possible.
Travel – When you travel, your brain becomes exposed to new, novel, and complex environments. Those new and challenging situations help promote the formation of new brain cells.
Dance – Dancing is good for the brain as it increases neural connectivity. When you dance, several brain functions – such as kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional – work all at once.
To take care of your brain is to take care of your overall well-being. Visit Brain.news to learn more ways of supporting brain health naturally.