Everyone has those days. You're operating in a fog, or perhaps you spaced out on a family member's name in the middle of dinner, or maybe you just find it hard to concentrate on work or hobbies. When these unwanted situations begin to come up more often, you may start to worry. Aging has long been associated with a slow mental decline.
The good news is there are simple things you can do to clear the cobwebs and regain your focus. Dr. Mike Dow, a psychotherapist and best-selling author, says we often don't realize the brain is just like the heart, our muscles, our lungs and bones - it needs maintenance, and healthy habits to help keep it working at its very best.
"People understand pretty well that if they eat healthy, quit smoking and start exercising, they can improve their cardiovascular health," Dow says. "But they don't always connect the dots of living a healthy lifestyle to improving cognitive health."
To help you reach your optimal brain health, Dow offers these every-day tips.
Give yourself a daily challenge
If you catch yourself in a rut or locked in your routine, it may be time to find ways to stretch your mind mus-cles with a new and challenging activity. Researchers have discovered that healthy brains need certain levels of reserves, and challenging them is one way to build those reserves.
"Think of your brain like a bank account," Dow says. "Every time you learn something new, or play a chal-lenging game or read a book, it's like depositing a dollar into that account. The more cash deposits you make, the more you have to spare."
Feed your brain
Like other parts of the body, the brain needs food and nutrients, and the right food can go a long way to support brain health. An antioxidant-rich diet including things like unsweetened tea, berries and turmeric can protect the brain from damage that comes from aging and oxidative stress.
Dow also recommends taking a supplement like Natrol Cognium. It contains a unique silk protein that's been shown in human clinical studies to protect the brain from oxidative stress. The studies also show that it improves memory and concentration by increasing blood flow and nutrition to the brain. If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of Natrol Cognium, visit natrol.com/benefits/brain-health/.
Tend to your relationships
As life and circumstances bring inevitable changes, the number of people we count as friends and loved ones can change over the years. It takes effort, but Dow says it's important to try to maintain our relationships and be open to creating new ones, be-cause they can have a profound effect on brain health.
"Relationships tend to buffer us from the stress of daily life, which is good because over time, excess stress can cause inflammation," Dow says. "At the same time, good, healthy relationships give our lives meaning."
To meet new people, try simple things like inviting a neighbor over for dessert, joining a book club or volunteering for a nonprofit or cause that's important to you.
Get enough sleep
We often short ourselves on sleep when life gets busy, but it's important to make it a priority, Dow says.
"Think of nighttime sleep as a wash-and-rinse cycle that clears away the 'bad stuff ' that builds up during the day," Dow says. "Brain fog and dementia-causing plaques are washed away by cerebrospinal fluid, and this process is more effective when you're sleeping."
Dow recommends practicing healthy sleep habits, such as striving for eight hours each night, being consistent with your bedtime routine and using melatonin instead of prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids to help you drift off.