Tools to Exercise Your Brain and Improve Cognitive Function

By Dr. Will Cole
Your brain is one of the most complex organs in your body and is responsible for your movements, mood, and thoughts. Without your brain you wouldn’t be able to function on any level and when it isn’t working optimally, it shows.

We often like to separate mental health from physical health but in reality, mental health is physical health. Our brain is part of our body, and there are measurable physiological implications that can drive brain health problems. 

And with brain problems on the rise, I see more and more people seeking out my expertise in my telehealth functional medicine clinic than ever before. And while every person's health case is different, there are a few tools that I regularly implement and recommend to my patients for their proven benefits when it comes to brain health. Keep reading for my top 5 brain-boosting tools.

1. Intermittent Fasting

A study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences theorize that the continuous consumption of food causes changes in epigenetic molecular DNA and protein that negatively impact cognition that can even be passed down to future generations. And while there are multiple benefits to fasting, improved brain health is at the top of the list.

In my newest book Intuitive Fasting, I dive into all the ways fasting can enhance cognitive function coupled with a 4-Week plan designed to guide you through varying intermittent fasting windows. Each week of the plan is tailored to focus on a different aspect of your health so that by the end of the four weeks, you will have all the tools necessary to achieve metabolic flexibility and thriving brain function.

2. Clean Keto Diet

A clean, plant-centric ketogenic diet (which I call Ketotarian) is a great way to support optimal brain health. Both the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting can help you reach nutritional ketosis quicker and amplify the many other benefits of fasting including improved cognitive function. That’s what I call a win-win. Ketone bodies like beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) act as a signaling molecule in brain cells and can induce the expressions of proteins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein is known for promoting cellular resilience and synaptic plasticity. This means that BDNF works to support the survival of existing brain cells and encourages the growth of new ones. Lowered synaptic plasticity has been shown to contribute to a range of brain health, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, and addition. 

4. Time outdoors

In addition to providing you with the most bioavailable source of vitamin D (which is linked to decreased memory and brain fog), the sun also provides healing infrared light, which is essential to calming inflammation levels that can further perpetuate poor memory and cognitive function.

5. Meditation

Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to regenerate itself by making new neural connections. This slowly decreases over time but meditation can increase the thickness of the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This helps to slow down cognitive decline and preserve neuroplasticity. Regular meditation is also associated with more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the angular cingulate cortex, the areas of the brain responsible for memory and focus. 

And if you are looking to find your zen, meditation can increase brain gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri areas of the brain that is responsible for mood stabilization. Just 10-20 minutes of meditation a day is enough to reap these powerful benefits!

6. Learn something

Learning something new has been shown to strengthen the connections in your brain and improve overall memory function. And the benefits don’t stop there. The feel-good endorphin dopamine is associated with being rewarded, and when we learn something new, dopamine is released in your brain.

While I suggest working with a functional medicine practitioner directly who can uncover the root cause of your symptoms and develop a customized plan for optimizing your brain health, these tools can be a great starting point for finally achieving the mental clarity you've been searching for.

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