brain light bulb

Updated Jan. 8, 2021

The brain is by far the most complex organ in the human body, controlling every bodily function through an intricate network of cells called neurons. There are billions of neurons in the brain and spinal cord. By using chemical and electrical signals, the brain can control everything from body temperature and heart rate to muscle movement and so much more.

Although the brain is quite powerful, it is still prone to countless diseases. As you age, your brain is constantly changing. If your brain isn’t challenged or actively engaged on a regular basis, your risk for diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, increases as the years go by. While going to the gym may be a priority for making sure that your body stays in shape, it’s equally important to regularly exercise your brain to keep your mind functioning at its best.

Fortunately, research has shown that your brain continues to produce neurons throughout your entire lifetime. If you’re regularly challenging and exercising your brain, these new neural connections can help expand your brain and keep you sharp well into your golden years.

10 Simple Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy

1. Change Your Routine

Simply changing your route to work or rearranging your living room will force your brain to adjust to new surroundings. As you become older, your attention span decreases and you become more susceptible to distraction. Changing things up a bit every now and then gives your brain a wake up call and forces it to pay attention again.

2. Try Something New

Training the brain can be fun. Here are some ideas:

  • Learn to play the guitar.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Brush your teeth with your opposite hand.
  • Learn to golf.

The list can go on and on. As you acquire an ability, you’re actually creating a system in the brain that does not exist. Basically, your brain is evolving—creating new connections, neurons, and memories.

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3. Stay Mentally Active

As the old saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you may lose it.” These activities will help keep your brain sharp and slow down brain aging:

  • Reading
  • Puzzles
  • Painting
  • Drawing

4. Memorize, Memorize, Memorize

Memorizing exercises give the brain strength to retain more information and build new associations between different neural connections of the brain. In fact, researchers from the National Institute on Aging found that adults who went through memory training were better able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills—even five years after going through the training.

5. Exercise Regularly

Staying physically active will help increase the number of blood vessels that bring oxygen to the brain, which can improve memory and help avoid mental decline.

6. Have an Active Social Life

Being social and interactive can prevent or delay onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by keeping neuron connections strong.

7. Eat More Foods with Antioxidants

A healthy diet can help control diabetes, blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol—all of which can harm the brain. Eating more of these foods can neutralize free radicals in the body that can cause damage to brain cells. Try eating more:

  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts

8.Get a Good Night’s Sleep

A well-rested brain works more efficiently and effectively, so try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Set up your bedroom for better sleep hygiene, which includes keeping your room cool, dark, and quiet—away from electronic devices. Even a short 20- to 30-minute nap can boost concentration and memory.

9. Have Fun

Doing things that are fun and pleasurable can help stimulate dopamine, the major chemical that transmits information between the neurons or brain cells. So, find a hobby or activity that brings you joy and do it as much as you can!

10. Try the Ultimate Memory Challenge

Shower and get dressed in the total darkness. This exercise will force your brain to adapt and create new neural pathways that ultimately will make it stronger and more resilient. Be careful and deliberate to ensure that you don’t trip on anything!

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.