9 Tips for Better Mental Acuity

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Keeping your mind in shape is just as important as physical fitness. Like our muscles & joints, our brains and cognitive abilities can decline as we age. But with some awareness and effort, you can help keep your mental acuity in tip-top shape. Here are 9 simple ways to keep your mind sharp, boost memory & learning, and enhance attention & situational judgement. You can also learn more about the impact of light on mental acuity here.

Choose Brain Food

How you eat and drink has a huge effect on how well your brain functions. One biggie to cut back on is processed sugar. Nutrition studies show that excess sugar intake can lead to decreased brain volume and poorer memory, and may even lead to more serious cognitive health issues like dementia. [1,2]

Fish oil may have the opposite effect, promoting better memory and mental acuity. One analysis looked at 28 studies and found that adults who suffered from mild memory loss benefitted from supplements like fish oil that are rich in the following omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The analysis also showed that people taking fish oil saw improved episodic memory. [3]

The link between our stomachs and brains goes beyond just what we eat: the technical term for the communication network that connects your stomach and brain is the gut-brain axis. [4] The physical connection between the gut and the brain is called the vagus nerve, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. [5] Bottom line: what you eat affects your whole body, and the brain is no exception. 

Minimize Alcohol and Drugs

We’re obviously not our sharpest after we’ve had a few cocktails, and sometimes that’s the point. But for the sake of your brain health and memory, it’s best to limit alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol intake can accelerate the mental decline that comes with aging. Drug use destroys brain cells no matter your age, and works against your cognitive health. Your brain works best when you’re sober!

Sleep is Essential for Mental Acuity

Sleep is a vital ingredient for our mental health and cognitive abilities. One of the best things you can do to improve your mental acuity is follow your circadian rhythms and get a good night’s sleep. Shoot for 7-8 full hours of sleep every night. In addition to getting enough quality rest, it’s important to align your sleep cycle so it follows your natural circadian rhythm. Humans are naturally diurnal animals, meaning we’re awake during the day and asleep when it’s dark. That’s no accident. It’s how we’re designed. Fighting against evolutionary traits is only going to make it harder for you to function your best. Check out this post for more tips that will help you sleep.

Sound Body, Sound Mind

When you exercise, improve blood flow, and keep your muscles in shape, the brain benefits. Exercise is one of the best things you can do to keep your body healthy and balanced. Even moderate amounts of exercise have been shown to improve mental acuity and memory. The benefits of exercise extend to many other aspects of our health as well. Exercise can help us sleep better. Aerobic exercises—everything from jogging to swimming to dancing—has been found to reduce anxiety and help with depression as well. [6]

Seek Balance and Try New Things

Our cells are healthier and more effective when we’re closer to a state of balance, or homeostasis. Finding balance in your lifestyle is also important for your health and mental acuity. To keep your mind engaged and challenged, it’s important not to fall into a repetitive routine. That can be easy in the winter, but your mind needs stimulation to stay sharp. So mix it up when you can and try new things, like a recipe you wouldn’t normally eat, or a book you wouldn’t normally read. It’s simple, but when it comes to mental exercise, there’s really no substitute for trying new things and working through new concepts and skills. Below are some additional ways to balance out your activities so your mind doesn’t get in a rut. 

Learn a New Skill

Exercise your body, but also take time to exercise your thinking and mental engagement. Active learning is one of the surest ways to stay mentally sharp. Work out those mental pathways! One study found that “sustained engagement in cognitively demanding, novel activities enhances memory function in older adulthood”. [7] The activities in the study included photography and quilting, but the same idea applies to any new activities. You could garden, paint, or try a DIY project. Spending time solving problems and figuring out new things is a terrific workout for your brain.

Teach a New Skill to Someone Else

Learning and teaching activate different parts of the brain, and both are vital to mental acuity. One of the best ways to stay mentally sharp is to take a skill you’ve learned and teach it to someone else. Teaching requires you (and your brain) to take something you know how to do intuitively and explain it explicitly. It’s harder than it sounds! Take something simple like tying your shoes. If you’ve ever tried to teach a child to “loop swoop and pull,” you know how difficult it can be to explain even a simple concept. Paying attention to another person’s ability to comprehend is a complex and active interaction that may help keep you mentally sharp.

Reading and Walking For the Win

Reading is a tried and true way to keep your mind engaged. It’s the ultimate maintenance exercise for your brain, like walking is for physical health. [8] And they make a great combo! If you take the time to do some reading and walking every day, your mind and body are likely to stay stronger and age more gracefully. Even slow walking is great for your blood flow and heart. And the reading doesn’t have to be Shakespeare! If you’re engaged with a book or article you like, your brain is getting a good work out.  

Meditation and Mindfulness

It’s easy to feel anxious and distracted, or not fully present in the moment because of all the other stuff you’re thinking and worrying about. Give your brain a break sometimes. Taking even five minutes to meditate can help you return to a more balanced mental state. Meditation can calm your body, slow your breathing, and reduce stress & anxiety. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation may also improve your memory and help your brain process information. [9] 

Your Brain Needs Healthy Light

Our bodies and cells need healthy light everyday, but most people don’t prioritize daylight and get outside nearly enough. Natural light has a huge effect on your sleep cycle and mental acuity. Your brain interprets light as a signal of when to be awake and when to produce sleep hormones like melatonin. [10] When you can’t get enough natural light from your environment, you can use a quality in-home light therapy device like Joovv.

Check out our science page to see how a Joovv treatment impacts your cells. Light therapy promotes better cellular function and greater balance across your body and brain. When you’re creating and using energy more efficiently, your physical and cognitive functions are sharper. You can read more about how light therapy promotes mental acuity here


Sources and References:

[1] J E Beilharz, J Maniam,  M J Morris. Short-term exposure to a diet high in fat and sugar, or liquid sugar, selectively impairs hippocampal-dependent memory, with differential impacts on inflammation. Behavioral Brain Research. 2016 Jun.

[2] M Pase, J Himali, et al. Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer's disease in the community. 2017 Sep.

[3] K Yurko-Mauro, D Alexander, M Van Elswyk. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Adult Memory: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2015.

[4] Mayer E, Tillisch K, Gupta A. Gut/brain Axis and the Microbiota. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2015 Mar.

[5] Breit S, Kupferberg A, et al. Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018 Mar.

[6] M Guszkowska. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Pyschiatria Polska. 2004 Jul.

[7] D Park, J Lodi-Smith, et al. The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Synapse Project. Psychological Science. 2014 Sep.

[8] Can Reading Reduce Stress? World Literary Foundation.

[9] Meditation: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

[10] Harvard Health. Blue light has a dark side.