Sound mental health is essential for living a wholesome life. Depression, anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s and such diseases are some of the leading mental health disorders that have a large impact on humans worldwide. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report found that mental disorders affect one in four people! That means in a family of four, one person is likely to suffer from some form of mental disorder at some point in their lives.
There are multiple factors that can trigger a mental health issue. While some factors are beyond our control, there is plenty that we can do. We looked at many scientific studies and summarised the best ways to improve your mental health and prevent cognitive decline as you grow older. First, see just how prevalent mental health disorders are globally:
Top 53 Ways To Improve Mental Health & Prevent Cognitive Decline
1. Hitting The Brain Gym
To improve physical health, doctors recommend exercise. Similarly, to ensure you maintain a strong and healthy brain, you must “exercise” your brain. The plasticity of our brain allows it to change throughout our lives. Giving our brain a regular workout strengthens connections that prevent cognitive decline and ensure the health of your brain.
2. Hop In A Hot Bath
An article summarises a latest study that found that taking an afternoon hot bath just twice a week moderately lifts the mood. This shows promise as a therapy for mild or moderate depression. Researchers hypothesised that a hot bath can increase the body temperature with might restore the normal circadian rhythm (often disturbed in people with depression).
3. Read, Read, Read & Read!
It has been proven in several studies that reading is good for your mental health. One study found that reading can prevent cognitive decline and another study suggested that reading may improve emotion intelligence as well. Given the busy schedule we have, it can be difficult to fit in time to read. A New York Times article discusses how even listening to audiobooks can allow an individual to reap the benefits of reading. Read today and read every day to benefit your mental health.
4. Meditate For A Healthy Brain
Off late several studies and clinical trials have found that meditation can help alleviate depression. Mindfulness meditation has also shown to improve one’s ability to focus and increase grey matter in your brain. Hence, by incorporating meditation in your daily routine you can not only prevent cognitive decline, but you can also improve the functioning of your brain.
5. A Little Cannabis Every Day Keeps Brain Ageing At Bay
You read that right! Smoking marijuana every day may help prevent your brain from ageing. A study found that while marijuana negatively affects teenagers, in old people it has an opposite effect. The study found that THC can reverse brain ageing and restore learning capacity and memory. This study was carried out on mice and hence human trials are necessary to make definitive claims.
6. Quit Smoking Or Dementia Might Get You
Several studies have found that a lot can be done to reduce the risk of dementia by simply changing our lifestyle. A report from Alzheimer’s Disease International found that people who smoke are at higher risk of dementia. The study also found that those who quit smoking were still at a higher risk of dementia compared to those who never smoked.
7. Exercise For A Healthy Mind
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that physical activity can protect individuals against the emergence of depression regardless of age and geographical region. Another article summarises that while it is complex to understand why and how exercising helps alleviate depression, it is understood that physical exercise helps one manage stress that might prevent the development of depression.
8. Rekindle Your Love With Nature
Getting close to nature can have astounding effects on your health. Multiple studies have found that being closer to nature can make people nicer, improve concentration in children with ADHD & even improve job satisfaction while lowering stress.
There are studies that advocate relocation to a greener location. The study published in Environmental Science & Technology emphasises theimportance of green spaces for our long-term well-being. The study also found that positive effects lasted for a full three years after relocation. Clearly, being closer to nature is good for your mental health.
9. Eating Healthy May Ease Symptoms of Depression & Anxiety
A study carried out by the University of Manchester, as summarised in neurosciencenewes.com found that lifestyle changes and dietary changes may ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Researchers suggest that eating a more nutrient-dense meal and cutting back on refined sugars can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
10. Saying No To Junk Food Keeps Your Brain Healthy
Researchers have confirmed several times that eating junk food can promote inflammation which increases the risk of depression. The study analysed data from 11 studies that researched into the link between pro-inflammatory diets (junk food) and increased risk of depression. Over 100,000 participants of varied age, gender and ethnicity showed that food with high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats & carbohydrates make you about 40% more likely to develop depression.
These researchers recommend an anti-inflammatory diet that contains more fibre, vitamins (especially A, C, D) and unsaturated fats. The Mediterranean diet that includes olive oil, tomatoes, green vegetables and fatty fish can help ease the symptoms of depression.
11. Hot Yoga Can Reduce Negative Thoughts
Yoga has long proven its benefits in reducing symptoms of depression and one’s ability to detach from negative thoughts. Studies have found that since meditation dwells at the core of most yoga styles, it allows for a boost in insulin production and reduces cellular ageing.
A new study found that women that participated in “hot yoga” were able to decrease their average level of stress and emotional eating. It is important to be able to let go of negative feelings to maintain a healthy brain.
12. Engage in Consensual Hugging!
Yes, you read that right! The latest study found that receiving a consensual hug can improve individual well-being. Researchers studied the “positive effect” and “negative effect” of participants when having faced a conflict. On days participants received hugs, they were less negatively affected and showed relatively higher positivity. This confirmed their hypothesis and showed that receiving hugs may alleviate mood and ease symptoms of depression.
13. Fighting Loneliness
Loneliness is shown to have a major impact on health. It can increase the level of stress in an individual which can cause inflammation. This, in turn, can increase the risk of heart diseases, Type-2 diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and even suicide attempts. A study even found a link between loneliness as a preclinical sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
An article in Scientific American suggests that having people in your life who love you and interact with you regularly can improve your health. For example, you are less likely to catch a cold, experience early cognitive decline and even avoid depression. You may even be able to recover from illness quickly and possibly live longer. Hence, it is important to build and maintain personal and social relationships to keep your mental health sound.
14. Make A New Friend
Making a new friend is the best way to fight loneliness. An article from Psychology Today summarises how strong positive relationships can induce a deep sense of satisfaction with life and fight loneliness. This not only improves your life but also prevents mental health risks from developing.
15. Go Watch A Movie!
In 2015, Brie Turns led study reported in the Journal of Family Therapy that watching movies can help adolescents verbalise internal feels and work through issues and repressed emotions. Several psychologists also use “Cinematherapy” to help people see their lives from different perspectives and better navigate through challenging circumstances.
16. Listening To Your Favourite Music Is Good For Your Brain
A study published in Nature found that listening to music can cause the release of dopamine, a chemical that plays a major role in motivation-based behaviour. Dopamine can essentially cause emotional experiences of pleasure which can be good for your mental health.
17. Learn A Musical Instrument To Improve Your Brain Health
A latest study found that playing a musical instrument can protect your brain health and listening skills. Playing an instrument can heighten hearing, movement and perception systems in our brain to work in sync. This improves brain health and can help prevent cognitive decline.
18. Spend One Day Without Notifications
Notifications grab all our attention. They make us prone to making more mistakes and make us less productive. It has been known for some time that turning off notifications can make an individual more productive. However, a new study finds that it can help reduce stress and improve mental health. So, take a day off and learn to manage your notifications to feel less stressed and avoid the ill-effects of stress.
19. Don’t Stop Playing!
An article in Scientific American discusses how even as adults, free and imaginative play is important. They discuss a study that found engaging in free, imaginative play is important for emotional and cognitive development. It can make us smarter, less stressed, and someone who is more adjustable, while protecting our mental health.
20. Pollution Can Affect Your Mental Health
A Swedish study found that pollution can increase the risk of mental disorders in adolescent children. They reported that there was a 9 percent increase in child mental illness for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter increase of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emitted in the air. While policy decisions are seldom motivated by populous concerns, there is plenty we can do to protect us and our children from the population.
21. Probiotics May Improve Mental Health
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive system. These bacteria protect your gut lining and have found to help prevent stress-related anxiety and depression. A study found that probiotics taken with a healthy diet and exercise may benefit mental health. Yogurt, buttermilk and kimchi are a few examples of food with probiotics.
22. Live Your Purpose
An article discusses that developing a purpose in life can help you live longer, slash your risk of heart diseases, , Alzheimer’s. Living a life with purpose also results in reduced anxiety. Meditations and other such techniques can help one be at peace with themselves and move closer to figuring and living out their purpose in life.
23. Don’t Keep Secrets
Several studies have confirmed the link between secrecy and increased anxiety, depression and symptoms of poor health. Keeping and hiding secrets can be stressful and can be one reason for poor health. However, new research has found that living with a secret causes more damage than the stress of concealing it. The same study suggests that sharing your secret with someone can provide to be beneficial and mitigate the stress caused by keeping and living with a secret.
24. Men, Stop Being Sexist!
Who knew sexism among males may be bad for their own mental health! Those who have studied this discuss that men hold certain sexist views that can be harmful to their mental health. Masculine “norms” like self-resilience, dominance, violence, sexual promiscuity, and power over women have been shown to have adverse effects on men’s mental health. In a world that stresses interdependence and interconnectedness, it can be stressful to want and fail at being entirely self-resilient.
25. Get A Good Night Sleep
Several studies have concluded that good night sleep is important for sound mental health. Sleep deprivation can cause accidents, mistakes and job and has several adverse impacts on our health. Hence, sleeping for 6-7 hours every night is crucial for sound mental health. A new study found that having a sense of purpose can result in a better night’s sleep.
26. Moderate Your Social Media Use
There have been countless stories on how excessive social media use can lead to social anxiety and cause mental illnesses. A study concludes that unwarranted use of social media can increase the risk of developing mental health problems like depression, anxiety and even self-harm. While the debate is far from settled, there is enough evidence to moderate our social media usage to lead a less stressful and insecure life.
27. Ashwagandha & Other Natural Supplements May Reduce Stress
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic remedy that helps the body deal with stress more effectively. Prolonged stress can cause serious mental health problems. Ashwagandha and Pukka Herbs can improve the quality of sleep and even improve emotional health.
28. Go For A Bike Ride
Riding a bike increases blood circulation , relieves stress and releases endorphins that improve mood and boost energy. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cycling. You can engage in jogging, swimming, walking, dancing and even gardening. Picking an outdoor activity such as these can be highly beneficial for reducing anxiety, stress and improving self-esteem and cognitive function.
29. Use Turmeric & Vitamin D To Treat Pain
Low-level of chronic pain can ruin your mood and can be bad for your mental health. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that can help mitigate pain. Furthermore, Vitamin D has shown to ease chronic pain in the elderly. A study showed that patients with mood disorders are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
30. Supplements That May Improve Mental Health
There are several supplements that are good for your brain health. Several supplements can improve the connections between neurons and boost the production of neurotransmitters. Here are some supplements beneficial for your brain:
- Ginkgo Biloba: Alleviates suffering from anxiety and depression
- Citicoline: Prescribed to Alzheimer’s & ADHD patients to support blood circulation to the brain
- DHA: Omega-3s (plentiful in fatty fish) boost the growth of new brain cells
- Huperzine: Enhances focus and concentration
- Tryptophan: Essential amino acid that encourages greater production of serotonin (promotes better sleep and reduced depression)
31. Keep On Talking
The latest research suggests that talk therapy can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. For example, they found that a disease called Anhedonia (people that find little pleasure in daily existence) was more manageable with talk therapy that also encouraged engaging in social activities. Talking can make a person feel more connected and less alone which is a great preventive measure for mental illnesses.
32. Text Less or Call. Use Emojis A Lot!
Text messages can be a serious cause of anxiety. They are often open to misinterpretation and can cause stress and anxiety for your mental health. Using emojis, capitalisation and punctuations are few ways to communicate effectively. Simpler to just call!
33. Start Gardening
Research studied 30 psychiatric patients that engaged in horticulture therapy (gardening) in urban green environments. They found that gardening had a positive effect on improving mental health and recuperation from stress, depression and anxiety.
Other Ways To Improve Your Brain Health (Tips 34-53)
We have looked at various ways in which one can prevent cognitive decline and maintain a healthy brain. Here are some one-liner tips and tricks that are not studied extensively by scientists but may have positive effects on your mental health:
34. Value Yourself
35. Avoid Smoking & Alcohol Consumption
36. Surround Yourself With Good People
37. Set Realistic Goals
38. Focus On The Present (Be Mindful)
39. Be Helpful To Others
40. Take A Break
41. Sleep On Time
42. Eat Your Meals On Time
43. Go On A Vacation
44. Build Self Confidence (Focus On Strengths)
45. Try New Things
46. Eat A Little Dark Chocolate
47. Use A Colouring Book
48. Take Time To Laugh
49. Go Off The Grid
51. Consume More Omega-2 Fatty Acids
52. Practice Forgiveness
53. Smile & Be More Grateful