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7 Smart Strategies to Boost Your Brain Health in the New Year

A young woman closes her eyes and breathes in fresh air against a light blue sky.

Real Simple

Maggie Seaver


At the start of a new year, many people seek out strategies that can create transformative change – like taking steps to make brain health a priority. Julie Fratantoni, PhD, shares key habits and lifestyle factors that can help to keep your brain feeling young. Good habits and a healthy mindset take work, but research suggests real payoff for your long-term brain health. 1. Create high-level goals, and set mini goals along the way.


“Your frontal lobe is the first part of the brain that’s vulnerable to decline over time, so anything you can do to strengthen it is good. Plus, as you take incremental strides toward a larger resolution and accomplish small steps along the way, you’re activating the brain’s reward network to produce dopamine (which is both motivating and rewarding)."
2. Build confidence through patterns of positive self-talk


“When you’re feeling anxious, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) narrows your options to fight/flight/freeze, so you are able to act quickly. On the other hand, confidence quiets the anxious systems, which allows you to think creatively and solve problems. Telling yourself simple phrases, such as ‘I can do this’ and ‘this can happen,’ help to cultivate a confident mindset."
3. Get Your Heart Rate Up Routinely


“Physical exercise sparks the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Small changes can make a big impact. Taking the stairs, going on a 10-15 minute walk every day, even playing with your kids, are all small but important ways to keep active that don’t require spending hours in the gym.”
4. Boost Your Memory: Challenge Yourself to Think Even Deeper


"Your frontal networks integrate new information with your world knowledge. After you engage with information (like a podcast, article, or conversation), ask yourself, 'What can I learn from this to update my thinking?' Jot down one way it can apply to you personally, or summarize key lessons or big-picture concepts in a single sentence."
5. Hone in on Gratitude


“Gratitude can create changes in brain chemistry in the same way physical activity can. Research shows that gratitude increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of well-being and happiness. Think about a time that someone genuinely thanked you and how it felt in your body. Practicing this for a few minutes a day has been shown to reduce the fear response in the amygdala as well as inflammatory markers in the body.”
6. Stock Up on Nourishing Brain Foods


"While no single food is a magical elixir of brain health, a well-rounded, brain-healthy diet protects your whole body and reduces risk factors associated with cognitive decline. Eat as many whole, real foods as possible, such as nuts, fish, and berries."
7. Make an Effort to Connect and Build Community


“Strong social bonds are among the most protective factors for brain health as we age. Invest in meaningful relationships, and think quality over quantity. Research shows social connection buffers against stress, increases longevity, decreases cognitive impairment, decreases depression and anxiety, and improves sleep as well as your immune system. Check in with a friend. Have a standing phone date. Send a voice note or text to let people know you’re thinking of them. Start or end your day by sending a note of gratitude to a loved one."
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Julie Fratantoni, PhD, CCC-SLP

Head of Research Integration and Partnerships Center for BrainHealth

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