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Boost your brain health in 5 days

With a few new habits, you can help protect your memory and brain health for years to come. Use this 5-day mini challenge to make those skills a part of your daily life.

Stacy Colino By Stacey Colino

The human brain is an amazing organ. It’s responsible for your memory and thinking abilities, for starters. But it also controls your ability to walk, talk, see, hear, taste, feel and do so much more. For all those reasons, it’s important to do whatever you can to keep your brain strong and healthy for many years to come.

Fortunately, that’s easier to do than you might think — and it can be enjoyable too. By tweaking your daily habits in small ways, you can boost your brainpower and help keep your brain working like it should as you get older. And with this simple five-day challenge, you can get started today. Here’s how it works.

Below are five simple, science-backed tips — one for each day of the challenge. Your goal: Try a new tip on day one, add a second tip on day two, and then keep going, adding a new strategy to your life day by day. At the end of five days, you’ll have five new habits that can make a big difference in protecting your brain health.
Of course, you’ll need to keep up these habits over the long haul. It’s also important to take care of any chronic health conditions you have that can affect brain health over time, says Gary Small, M.D. He’s the physician-in-chief for behavioral health at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey and coauthor of The Memory Bible. Those conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Ready? Let’s begin!


Aetna® D-SNP members who have questions about managing a chronic condition can call their care team. They’re here to help you get the answers you need.



Day 1: Eat an anti-inflammatory food at each meal

Long-term inflammation and oxidative stress have been linked with symptoms such as loss of memory and attention span. (Oxidative stress is a process that can damage your cells and tissues.) They’ve also been linked with serious brain conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.1 Fortunately, eating certain foods can help lower inflammation and fend off the side effects.2

There are plenty of tasty foods to choose from that fit the bill, Dr. Small says:

  • Fruits, especially berries such as blueberries and strawberries
  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens like spinach, collards and kale
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna and sardines
  • Spices such as curcumin and cinnamon
  • Foods that have probiotics (good bacteria), such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods

Day 2: Chat with a friend or family member

In-person talks are great. Chatting with loved ones by phone or video works too. What matters most for your brain and overall health is making that social connection and engaging in conversation.3

“Socialization through conversation is one of the best ways to stimulate your brain,” says Douglas W. Scharre, M.D. He’s the director of the division of cognitive neurology in the department of neurology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “And social support helps with mood and lessens depression and anxiety.” It also helps prevent loneliness, which has been found to hurt brain function and raise the risk of mental decline as people get older. 3


Aetna® D-SNP members can call their care team to get answers to their questions about mental health and, if necessary, get connected with a mental health professional.



Day 3. Go for a brisk walk

Walking is a great form of exercise: It’s free, you don’t need any special equipment, and you can do it just about any time or anywhere. And if you walk regularly, it’s great for your brain. Regular exercise has been shown to:4

  • Improve memory, brain function and sleep quality
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Improve your focus and shift your attention
  • Support growth of new cells in the area of the brain that controls long-term memory
  • Raise levels of mood-boosting chemicals in the brain

“The longer you can work out regularly over time, the more it’s like putting savings in your brain bank,” explains Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., a professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. She’s also the author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life. “It’s also never too late to start.”


Looking for more exercise ideas? If you’re an Aetna D-SNP member, you have access to the SilverSneakers® fitness program. This benefit gives you access to more than 16,000 participating SilverSneakers locations nationwide, plus online videos for yoga, strength training, and more. Learn more at SilverSneakers.com/GetStarted.



Day 4: Take a relaxation break

The way you choose to relax is up to you. It’s just important that it helps you let go of stress. “Stress is the enemy of cognitive health,” says Dr. Small. “Stress hormones temporarily impair memory.” Research has found that long-term stress is associated with reduced brain tissue in areas of the brain that balance emotions, impulse control and important physical functions.

Need ideas for winding down? Some ways to relax that have been shown to calm your mind and ease tension in your body include:5

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (where you tense and then relax your muscles from head to toe)
  • Visualization
  • Meditation

Day 5: Challenge your brain

Keeping your mind active can strengthen the connections between your brain cells. Stronger connections mean better brain function as you get older, says Dr. Small. Some ways to keep your brain busy:

  • Do a crossword or sudoku puzzle.
  • Read a challenging book.
  • Play a board game or a computer game.
  • Learn a new skill or language.

Most of all, remember to keep it fun. The more you enjoy challenging your mind, the more likely you’ll be to keep it up.


 

1. Sartori AC, Vance DE, Slater LZ, et al. The impact of inflammation on cognitive function in older adults: implications for health care practice and research. Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. August 2012; 44 (4): 206-217.

2. Harvard Health Publishing. Foods that fight inflammation. August 29, 2020. Accessed: June 29, 2021.

3. Zhong, B-L, S-L Chen, and Y. Conwell. Effects of transient versus chronic loneliness on cognitive function in older adults: Findings from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. May 2016; 24 (5): 389-398.

4. Harvard Health Publishing. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. April 9, 2014. Accessed June 29, 2021.

5. Mayo Clinic. Relaxation techniques: try these steps to reduce stress. February 26, 2021. Accessed June 29, 2021.

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