Brain exercises can support cognitive function

11 Healthy Brain Habits: Strengthen Your Mind

By: Sarah Walker, Ph.D.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Without our big brains, humans wouldn't be much different from other living organisms on the planet. (I know you may be thinking that some humans have smaller brains than others, but that is a topic for a different day.)

Regardless of comparisons between your brain and that of your neighbors, all humans have a well-developed prefrontal cortex. Our brains and cognitive abilities allow us to communicate in multiple languages, make (hopefully) logical/rational decisions, create and document a wealth of information.

So we want to take care of our brain health and keep our minds running their best with good brain habits. What might those habits be?

What are healthy brain habits?

Just as we have lifestyle habits for healthy teeth such as brushing or flossing, healthy brain habits are lifestyle choices we can make to help keep our minds in tip-top shape. Brain health habits that make a difference include getting the physical activity, sleep and nutrition your brain needs. (Good news: if you're already following a healthy lifestyle, you may be doing many of these habits already!)

11 healthy brain habits

You can strengthen your mind and support good brain health for the long term with a healthy lifestyle focused on the following practices:

1. Exercise

While you may be aware of the many health benefits of physical exercise for your heart and bones, there are also benefits that are also true for the brain. Physical activity has been associated with neurological health and function in a variety of clinical studies. The CDC exercise guidelines suggest the following to keep the brain healthy:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity; or
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity; or
  • An equivalent mix of the two; and
  • 2+ days a week of muscle-strengthening activities.

2. Healthy diet

It should come as no surprise that a healthy diet can help promote a healthy brain. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet, which focus on fresh fruits, vegetables and olive oil, can help support cognitive health as we age.

A healthy diet (and regular exercise) also helps us maintain a healthy weight, which also supports brain function.

3. Restful sleep

Sleep is a key component of overall health. A period of rest is also important for brain health and for cognitive function. While you are asleep, your hippocampus consolidates memories, transferring short-term ones into long-term storage, which supports learning. Quality sleep supports mental health as well, so be sure to get plenty of zzz's. Aim to get between 7-9 hours a night to give your brain the refresh it needs.

4. Learn something new

The brain, like the body, operates on a "use it or lose it" principle. Cognitive activities—such as problem-solving games like sudoku and crossword puzzles, reading, playing instruments and practicing a foreign language—are healthy habits that can support good brain health. Keep your mind sharp by learning new things as well as reviewing those skills you already have up your sleeve. It does not have to be formal education. (Though if you are ready for your next degree, aim for the bleachers!) Any active cognitive stimulation will benefit your mind.

5. Maintain social connections

Humans are social creatures. We benefit from being socially active in interactions with others and having meaningful relationships. When we are socially active—through in-person interactions and social networks—it helps support good mental and brain health.

6. Stay hydrated

Our bodies contain a lot of water, so it makes sense that we need to maintain hydration to support our brains and bodies. Drinking water and staying hydrated supports clearer thinking and cognitive health.

7. Manage stress

It is important to manage stress in our lives, for both mental and physical health reasons. Being mindful of occasional stress and making an effort to do things to help manage stress, like breathwork and meditation, can help support mental health and keep the brain supported as well.

Explore Our Best Brain Health Supplements

Shop Now

8. Get targeted nutrition

Taking supplements can help support the health of our brain cells and neurons. Nutrients like magnesium L-threonate, ashwagandha, spearmint extract and more have been shown to help support brain function and cognition. These nutrients are sometimes referred to as nootropics—substances that can help support optimal cognitive function and health.

9. Encourage your gut health and a healthy microbiome

The gut and brain are connected via the gut-brain axis. This association between gut health and healthy mood can support our mental health and keep our brains and bodies feeling good. Encourage the positive flow through a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables and supplements that support a healthy microbiome.

10. Maintain heart health

If the brain is the computer of the body, the heart is the motor. They work together to keep you in good health. Healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol and healthy blood sugar are all components of overall heart health—and research suggests they can promote brain health, too. Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for heart health support, also show brain benefits.

11. Protect your head

The brain is surrounded by the bone of the skull for a very important reason: protection. But a skull only goes so far. The best way to keep your brain at its best is to protect your head in the first place. So wear a helmet, be mindful and avoid high-risk activities if you can. These healthy habits can help keep your brain safe.

Why Should I Worry About Brain Health?

The brain is where we store knowledge, take in information through the senses and initiate body movements. Our brain health and function dictate our day-to-day behavior.

When we are born, our minds are sponges, and they continue to develop until about age 25. Over time, we move past our prime period of optimal functioning. This means we sometimes are forgetful. (Where are those keys?) Perhaps our bodies don't move quite as fast as they used to.

Brain health can also affect our well-being and satisfaction with life, including our mental health and sense of purpose and belonging. Thankfully, good brain health habits like exercise, proper diet and staying socially active can help keep brains healthy and functioning at their best.

What does the brain need daily?

Along with exercise and rest, your brain needs nutrients to perform optimally. The brain is a very energy-demanding organ and uses about one-half of the sugar energy used by the body. This does not mean adding more refined sugar to your diet. But it highlights the importance of providing the brain with the energy it needs. Try eating Mediterranean-style and loading your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables to help give your brain the power it needs.

Targeted nutrition through supplementation also helps keep brains healthy and promotes brain cell energy and function.

Want some personalized recommendations on the nutrients you need to support brain health? Take our health needs quiz to learn what might work for you.

About the Author: Sarah A. Walker, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist, an artist, a certified hypnotherapist, an EMDR therapist and a registered yoga teacher. As a lifelong learner and a creative, she brings these skill sets to her specialties and expertise. She integrates creative endeavors as part of the whole mind-body innovative approach to mental health and total well-being.