Cognitive function includes brain processes like memory, logic, rational thought, learning, extrapolation and pattern recognition. But as far as these functions go, some people assume that they’re stuck with what they’ve already got. However, this isn’t true. There are multiple ways to both enhance cognitive function and prevent the cognitive decline that often plagues people in their later years.
Physical activity is not just great for your heart and muscles, but also your mind. Like all organs, your brain needs oxygen to function, and exercise provides more oxygenated blood to your brain. Furthermore, exercise releases endorphins – neurotransmitters that help relieve pain and stress. This aids you in both physical and mental relaxation.
Research published in the journal of the American Physiological Society shows that “from young children to the elderly, higher levels of fitness are associated with better performance on cognitive tasks.” Not only that, but the same paper makes the case that aerobic exercise, or exercise that increases your heart rate, is likely protective against cognitive decline from diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Another way to improve cognitive function is through the use of nootropic supplements. Although nootropics have only recently come to prominence among the general population, many of these compounds - such as cocoa, coffee and ginseng - have been used for hundreds of years. Modern science provides us with better evidence that these supplements work. For example, a randomized, controlled trial published in 2015 demonstrated that cocoa helps preserve cognitive function in the elderly.
Most nootropics that enhance cognition do so by providing the body with precursors to neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers between nerve cells and affect everything from mood to thought to muscle movement. Higher levels of neurotransmitters can help with cognitive enhancement. For example, a study appearing in Neuropsychopharmacology showed that elevated acetylcholine levels lead to less rigid thinking and better socialization in animal models. Acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter than can be increased by nootropic supplements like alpha-GPC and Huperzine-A.
Other nootropic supplements, like omega 3 fatty acids that can be found in fish and krill oil, work to enhance and protect the brain from cognitive decline. In fact, a paper in the journal Neuropharmacology showed that omega 3 fatty acids “…are indispensable for proper brain development, may enhance cognitive function in healthy adult individuals and attenuate cognitive impairment in aging and age-related disorders, such as dementia.”
#3 Mental Stimulation
Although the brain isn’t a muscle, you still need to exercise in the form of daily mental stimulation to keep it sharp. You can easily get the mental stimulation you need in several ways - solving puzzles, reading challenging material, listening to music, or learning a new skill.
In fact, research from University College London found that mental exercises, such as puzzles, word games, music and social discussion about past and present events, had beneficial effects on the memory and thinking test scores of dementia patients. The study even found that the participants who did these mental exercises also reported an improved quality of life.
#4 Reducing Stress
Physical and mental relaxation is just as important for a sharp mind as physical and mental exercise. While a little stress, such as accomplishing challenging tasks, can stimulate your brain, chronic, negative stress can be detrimental to your cognitive function. A paper published in the journal Neuron even outlined a molecular pathway for this phenomenon. In this study, researchers found that mice exposed to repeated stress ended up with reduced levels of certain synaptic transmissions and thus impaired temporal order recognition memory.
Fortunately, there are some excellent methods of de-stressing. These include engaging in activities you find fun, listening to your favorite music, and getting a therapeutic massage. That’s right - the physical pleasure and relaxation you receive from a good massage translates to a more relaxed, receptive mind.
#5 Being Social
Also, don’t neglect the importance of socialization. Humans are social animals and even the “loners” among us need personal interaction. In fact, a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Aging Research cited socialization as a beneficial factor in cases of cognitive decline.
Jim Kwik again has good advice regarding socialization for brain health: “Your brain potential is enhanced by your social networks. Who you spend time with is who you become – so make sure the people you’re spending time with are good for your brain and your life.”
Putting It All Together
Adding one of these methods will help optimize cognitive function. However, it is important to note that combining a few of these methods together will help multiply the effects. It’s always best to have a more holistic approach.