Can Brain Games Improve Your Cognition?

By Julia Reedy & Catherine Roy Nov 08, 2017

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There’s no doubt that we’re living through a technological revolution. And with the internet always at our fingertips, it seems like sheer brainpower is becoming obsolete. But whether we like it or not, our mental capacity follows the law of ‘use it or lose it;’ if we lean too heavily on technology as an external hard drive, we become more vulnerable to age-related cognitive decline.

The good news? It’s never too early to start protecting your brain! And now, there's no need to wonder any longer if those Sunday Paper brain games like Sudoku are imparting real cognitive benefits. Or better yet, if literal “brain food” actually exists. We’ve done all of the research. So without further ado, here’s some truly brain-boosting information you should know.

Biomarkers associated with cognition

As the "pilot" of the body, your brain rightfully requires quite a bit of energy. But unlike other organs, it can’t utilize protein or fat for fuel – only glucose will do the trick. So, proper blood glucose levels are essential for optimal cognitive performance and function.

B-vitamins B12 and B9 (more commonly known as folateare also incredibly important. They're key factors in the production of DNA, RNA, and red blood cells – all of which play a critical role in proper brain development and function. These vitamins also impact the myelination of your nervous system, which protects your brain cells and nerves from deteriorating over time.

Another cognitive corollary? Cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone) take proportionately high tolls on your body and brain. High cortisol levels are associated with feelings of anxiety and depression, which can lead to cognitive decline over time.

By combining a focus on these biomarkers with science-backed lifestyle recommendations, our “Improve Cognition” goal can help you achieve optimal brain health. To give you a peek into how your “Improve Cognition” journey would look, here are some simple tweaks you can make now for a healthy head.

Age is just a number, right? So don't let it impact your brainpower.

 

Follow the MIND Diet

The MIND diet is a hybrid of the popular Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, aka high blood pressure) diets, with a major focus on the foods and nutrients best known to protect the brain. Studies show that the MIND diet significantly slows the rate of cognitive decline.1

So what’s the secret sauce, or lack thereof when it comes to this diet? Well, it's high in green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, legumes, whole grains, fish, poultry, and olive oil, and low in red or processed meat, and other sources of unhealthy fats.

 

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Eat more fish or take a fish oil supplement

The MIND diet emphasizes the consumption of fish because of its high concentration of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3s protect your brain cells, and multiple studies have found that eating one or more servings of fish per week is associated with better age-related cognition.2,3

Not a big fan of fish? You can get similar benefits from supplements. A 4g fish oil or omega-3 supplement is a good starting point.

As always, consult with your doctor before you begin any new supplement routines.

 

Eat foods high in flavonoids

Flavonoids act as powerful antioxidants in the body and brain. They’re found in foods like green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate, tea, red wine, and berries, and studies have shown that they can improve performance on cognitive tests.4,5

Try adding blueberries to your breakfast, having a piece of dark chocolate for a mid-afternoon snack, or sipping on red wine at dinner. Wine and chocolate in the name of health? Yes, you read that right.

 

Get moving

Physical activity is one of the most well-researched changes you can make to increase your brainpower. Studies show that adding 30-minutes of moderate-intensity activity to your daily routine can increase cognitive performance.6,7

Tai Chi, a mind-body exercise, is especially beneficial because it integrates physical, cognitive, social, and meditative components.8

 

Play brain games

And now the answer you were waiting for: yes, the regular completion of brain games like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, or even video games is associated with a brainpower boost. More specifically, these games can improve executive function (the mental ability to complete multi-step tasks) and processing speed in both young and elderly people.9, 10

Your next move? Download a brain game app on your phone, keep a Sudoku book in your work bag and chip away at it on the train, or spend your Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and the weekly crossword. Your brain will thank you!

 

For more information on how to incorporate these recommendations into your daily routine, make sure to check out our new “Improve Cognition” goal!

Stay sharp at every age!

Learn how your biomarkers affect your body in this FREE e-Book download!

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References:

  1. [1] Morris MC, Tangney CC,, Wang Y3, Sacks FM, Barnes LL, Bennett DA,, Aggarwal NT. “MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging.” Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 2015 Sep;11(9):1015-22.
  2. [2] Nooyens ACJ, van Gelder BM, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, van Boxtel MPJ, Verschuren WMM. “Fish consumption, intake of fats and cognitive decline at middle and older age: the Doetinchem Cohort Study.” The European Journal of Nutrition. 2017 May 9.
  3. [3] Zhang Y, Chen J, Qiu J, Li Y, Wang J, Jiao J. “Intakes of fish and polyunsaturated fatty acids and mild-to-severe cognitive impairment risks: a dose-response meta-analysis of 21 cohort studies.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Feb;103(2):330-40
  4. [4] Nurk E, Refsum H, Drevon CA, Tell GS, Nygaard HA, Engedal K, Smith AD. “Intake of flavonoid-rich wine, tea, and chocolate by elderly men and women is associated with better cognitive test performance.” The Journal of Nutrition. 2009 Jan;139(1):120-7.
  5. [5] Letenneur L, Proust-Lima C, Le Gouge A, Dartigues JF, Barberger-Gateau P. “Flavonoid intake and cognitive decline over a 10-year period.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 2007 Jun 15;165(12):1364-71.
  6. [6] Loprinzi PD, Kane CJ. “Exercise and cognitive function: a randomized controlled trial examining acute exercise and free-living physical activity and sedentary effects.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015 Apr;90(4):450-60.
  7. [7] Falck RS, Davis JC, Liu-Ambrose T. “What is the association between sedentary behaviour and cognitive function? A systematic review.” The British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017 May;51(10):800-811.
  8. [8] Wayne PM1, Walsh JN, Taylor-Piliae RE, Wells RE, Papp KV, Donovan NJ, Yeh GY. “Effect of tai chi on cognitive performance in older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2014 Jan;62(1):25-39.
  9. [9] Nouchi R1, Taki Y, Takeuchi H, Hashizume H, Nozawa T, Kambara T, Sekiguchi A, Miyauchi CM, Kotozaki Y, Nouchi H, Kawashima R. “Brain training game boosts executive functions, working memory and processing speed in the young adults: a randomized controlled trial.” PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e55518.
  10. [10] Nouchi, Rui, et al. "Brain training game improves executive functions and processing speed in the elderly: a randomized controlled trial." PloS one 7.1 (2012): e29676.

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