Blood flow & brain health

Boost blood flow for better brain health

Do you ever find yourself forgetting your keys? Or wondering why you walked into a room? Maybe losing your train of thought mid-sentence? If so, and if you’re more couch potato than fitness enthusiast, there’s one important strategy that could put you on the path to improved recall: moving more.

Yes, the secret to a better memory is as simple as aerobic exercise. It increases blood flow to your brain, especially to the hippocampus, a region crucial to memory. A 2017 study of 51 healthy young adults found that those with the highest fitness levels had a firmer, more elastic hippocampus and scored the best on memory tests. Healthy blood flow is crucial to your brain and whole body. It transports nutrients, including oxygen, to every cell and flushes away toxins. Despite making up only 2% of your body weight, your brain uses 20% of the oxygen and blood flow.

Exciting new research in Human Brain Mapping dispels the long-held belief that our brain cells age quickly. Instead, it’s the blood vessels that feed our neurons that are aging faster. Keeping these blood vessels healthy is essential for maintaining a sharp mind and strong mental health. This is not just about avoiding memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease; it’s also about steering clear of other mental health issues, like depression and bipolar disorder, and physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. And let’s not forget about having more energy and reducing the risk of obesity.

When blood flow is compromised, it spells trouble for the brain. Brain SPECT imaging studies show that low blood flow is linked to a range of behavioral and psychiatric issues. This type of brain imaging measures blood flow and activity, revealing that low blood flow is associated with conditions such as memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. In fact, research in Nature Communications shows that low blood flow is the top brain imaging predictor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

So, what can exercise do for your brain? Here are a few highlights:

  1. Increases the size of the hippocampus, crucial for memory enhancement.
  2. Protects the hippocampus from stress-related hormones.
  3. Stimulates the production of growth factors that nurture stem cell production.
  4. Promotes neurogenesis, the ability to generate new neurons.
  5. Reduces beta-amyloid plaque formation, linked to Alzheimer’s.
  6. Improves cognitive flexibility and mood.
  7. Enhances insulin’s ability to lower blood sugar, reducing the risk of diabetes.
  8. Aids in detoxification through sweat.
  9. Improves sleep quality and immunity.

Which exercises are best? Racquet sports top the list. A 2016 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who played tennis, table tennis, squash, and other racquet sports had the lowest risk of dying during the nearly decade-long research. Swimming and aerobics are also excellent choices. And if walking is your thing, keep up the pace to reap the most benefits.

Boosting blood flow doesn’t stop at exercise. Staying hydrated, drinking green tea, limiting salt, and enjoying an ounce of dark chocolate every day are easy and beneficial moves. Foods high in magnesium and potassium, such as avocados and spinach, also support healthy blood flow. Additionally, ensure you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep and consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a non-invasive way to enhance blood flow.

Incorporate these strategies into your routine and watch your memory and overall brain health improve. It’s all about taking small, consistent steps for a healthier, sharper you.