Scientists used to think that your brain stopped growing new cells once you reached adulthood. Happily, current research shows that this conventional wisdom simply isn’t true! As you get older, you can continue to grow new brain cells and even reverse some of the natural brain cell loss that occurs with age. To encourage your brain to grow new cells, try adopting healthy habits like exercising regularly and doing stress-relieving activities. You can also protect your old brain cells by staying away from tobacco, limiting alcohol use, and managing health conditions such as high blood pressure and mood disorders.
EditStimulating New Brain Cell Growth
- Get regular aerobic exercise. Working out doesn’t just build your muscles—it also beefs up your brain! Incorporate moderate aerobic activity, such as swimming, power walking, or jogging, into your regular routine.
- For example, you might aim for 30 minutes of jogging a day, 5 days a week.
- Research shows that regular aerobic exercise over a long period of time is more effective at stimulating brain cell growth than other forms of exercise (such as interval training or resistance training).
- If you’re not sure what kind of aerobic activity is safe or appropriate for you, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist.
- Do stress-relieving activities. Activities that reduce stress and give you a sense of wellbeing can encourage the growth of new brain cells. Try to set aside at least a few minutes each day to do things that bring you pleasure and help you relax, such as:
- Doing yoga or meditating
- Engaging in your favorite hobby or creative activity
- Listening to relaxing music
- Getting intimate with a romantic partner
- Try challenging mental exercises. When you flex mental muscles that you don’t usually use, your brain is encouraged to grow new cells. Challenge yourself by doing “neurobics,” or brain exercises that focus on exposing your mind to new stimuli and ideas. A few activities you could try include:
- Playing 3D video games
- Learning a new skill or reading about a subject you’ve never studied before
- Using your non-dominant hand to do everyday activities like brushing your teeth, eating, or doodling
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. Antioxidant-rich foods can prevent damage to your current brain cells and promote the growth of new, healthy cells. Omega 3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish and flaxseed, may also help improve your brain health. Incorporate plenty of brain-boosting foods into your diet, such as:
- Vegetable oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy greens
- Curcumin (a spice found in yellow curries)
- Green tea
- Fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel
- Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about cutting calories. Eating a diet that is high in calories—especially calories from fat—may inhibit your brain’s ability to create new cells. Additionally, restricting the number of calories you eat can encourage the growth of new brain cells. Ask your doctor if you might benefit from reducing the number of calories you eat every day.
- Studies show that following a restricted diet, in which you eat only 70% of the calories you’d normally consume, can be beneficial to your brain and your overall health. However, don’t try a restricted diet without talking to your doctor about whether it’s safe for you.
- Ask your doctor about supplements that stimulate brain growth. Research on substances that can help your brain grow new cells is still in its early stages. However, there’s evidence that certain vitamins and dietary supplements may help. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
- For example, if you have a deficiency of vitamin A or zinc, taking supplements might make it easier for your brain to produce new cells.
EditPreventing the Loss of Brain Cells
- Avoid smoking or quit if you already smoke. Smoking tobacco can not only damage your current brain cells, but can also prevent new ones from growing. Protect your brain and body by staying away from tobacco or quitting if you already use tobacco products.
- If you’re not sure of the best way to stop smoking, talk to your doctor. They can offer healthy strategies or even prescribe medications to help you quit.
- Drink only in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol can damage your brain, leading to long-term problems with memory, thinking, and learning. It can also disrupt the growth of new cells in your brain. If you drink, limit yourself to a moderate amount: no more than 1 drink per day if you’re a woman, or 2 if you’re a man.
- 1 alcoholic drink is defined as of 80-proof spirits, a glass of wine, or of beer.
- If you are dependent on alcohol or are concerned about how your drinking might be affecting your health, talk to your doctor.
- Maintain an active social life. Spending time with friends isn’t just enjoyable—it’s also good for your brain. Socializing helps keep the connections between your brain cells active, preventing some of the loss of brain function associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you can, try to spend time hanging out with a friend at least once a week.
- If you can’t socialize in person, reach out to your friends over the phone or on social media.
- If you don’t have much of a social network, look for opportunities to make new friends. For example, you might meet people by taking a class at a local community center, joining a social club, or volunteering for a cause you care about.
- Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High blood pressure and high levels of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) are both associated with mental decline as you get older. To keep your brain young and healthy, work with your doctor to keep these issues in check. Some things you can do include:
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Taking medications to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, if your doctor recommends it
- Protect your head during sports or dangerous activities. Any kind of head injury puts you at risk for brain damage, even if you don’t have an obvious concussion. If you play active sports, ride a bike or motorcycle, or do work that could put you at risk of head trauma (such as construction), wear appropriate protective gear.
- For example, always wear a helmet while riding a bike, motorcycle, skateboard, or roller blades.
- If you work at a construction site, wear a hard hat.
- Get plenty of good-quality sleep. If you’re an adult, try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. If you’re a teen, aim for 8-10. Your brain heals itself from the day’s stresses and flushes away toxic proteins while you sleep. It also processes information you picked up during the day, helping you to learn and retain new memories. You can improve your sleep by:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine. For example, you might read, do some stretches, or take a warm shower before bed.
- Turning off all bright screens at least half an hour before bedtime.
- Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable.
- Avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, a few hours before bedtime.
- Seek treatment for depression and other mood disorders. If left untreated, mood disorders like depression and anxiety can make it harder for you to think clearly, and they may actually do damage to certain structures in your brain. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help you manage these conditions and restore your brain’s health. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor or a counselor.
- Possible treatment options include psychological therapy (or “talk therapy”) and medications. Many people benefit from a combination of different treatments.
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