Mental Acuity: 4 Surprising Steps to Build Mental Sharpness for Life

Mental Acuity At a Glance

Mental acuity is defined as “sharpness of the mind”, though the definition seems to encompass many aspects of cognitive performance including memory, concentration, and creativity [1].

The term mental acuity is used synonymously with general cognition.

Any attempt to discover how to build or maintain mental acuity takes a broad approach to cognitive performance.

This content will zoom out and look at mental acuity and cognitive performance from a wider lens rather than focus on specifics, such as improving mitochondrial health. To do this we will focus on the basics.

Mental Acuity and Longevity

The term mental acuity seems to apply most often to older people who desire to preserve their cognitive performance as they age.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s all reduce mental acuity and quality of life, which is one reason people desire healthy practices to avoid these.

Some well-researched data on maintaining mental acuity over time focuses on habits like exercise, engaging the brain, and controlling blood pressure [2].

In the following sections we will focus on maintaining mental acuity and even building it throughout the lifespan.

Low Hanging Fruit to Boost Mental Acuity

Certain practices can drastically boost our cognitive performance without much input or risk. We will cover the following:

  • Exercise
  • Sleep hygiene

Research suggests exercise and movement has profound cognitive consequences.

In 2008, doctor John Ratey published Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain suggesting all manner of cognitive benefits [3].

In the book, Ratey suggests exercise supports cognitive decline and, in particular, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2013 Cochrane review found that exercise reduces symptoms of depression [4], another found that aerobic exercise can enhance executive function and memory [5].

There is sufficient evidence to say that exercising regularly is one of (if not the) most important lifestyle habits you can use to maintain mental acuity.

Getting started can be as simple as going for a walk, swimming, or more intense exercise. Getting the heart rate elevated is good, but the main goal is consistency.

Sleep is another habit that significantly affects cognitive performance in the short and long term. One of the main purposes of sleep is to clear out the byproducts of thinking (plaques etc).

As we age, the accumulation of those plaque promote diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s clear that adequate sleep is essential for mental acuity [6].

Here is a sleep hygiene checklist of 14 items that you can use to ensure high quality sleep from our friends at Four Sigmatic.

Surprising Practices That Enhance Mental Acuity

Sleep and exercise are two great basic practices that will help you to maintain mental acuity into age, but there are surprising tools you may have never heard of.

Fasting

Diet is a large part of health, but sometimes not eating is the best bet for longevity. According to numerous studies, fasting can improve measures of cognitive performance [7].

Through scientific mechanisms like autophagy, mitochondrial biogenesis etc., fasting makes our cells more robust and thus more likely to function for years to come.

One replacement for basic fasting (i.e., not eating for extended periods) is called the fasting mimicking diet (FMD).

The FMD uses low calories (800 – 1200 per day) for 1 week per month to mimic the same benefits of fasting, but without the hardships.

According to research FMD is easier to maintain long-term and produces many of the benefits without the sometimes trying problems of regular fasting.

If you are over the age of 70 consider discussing the FMD with a doctor so that they can provide details based on your particular body.

Sauna

Spending time in a heated sauna seems to have benefits for longevity. According to a study of men in Finland, using a sauna 4 – 7 times per week had a 40% reduction in all-cause mortality [8]

Even spending as little as 15 minutes twice per week can be beneficial for markers of cognitive and physical performance.

Light Therapy

Light alters our brain chemistry. As odd as that may sound, our species has regulated cycles of physiology based upon the light and dark cycle of the sun and moon.

There are different ways of using light to improve mental acuity. One is to use blue light to improve attention, working memory, and mood [9][10].

Other examples include using red and near infrared light therapy to improve mitochondrial health (using a Joovv light for example).

mental acuity

Nootropics and Supplementation

There are numerous “nootropics”, supplements that improve markers of mental performance, that you can use to maintain mental acuity as well.

The best place to start is micronutrients or deficiencies, such as vitamin D, magnesium, and even creatine for those who do not have kidney problems.

All of these are an “easy win” with supplementation, but there are other tools that have been used for thousands of years as well.

  • Bacopa Monnieri – This Ayurvedic herb is used to boost memory. In studies, bacopa takes about 12 weeks to work, but improves memory reliably without side effects [11].
  • Gotu Kola – Similar to bacopa, this is an Ayurvedic herb with general cognitive benefits.
  • Curcumin – As an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, curcumin is a polyphenol with valuable longevity benefits (including support against Alzheimer’s) [12].

We have developed ELEVATE to provide mental acuity benefits for people of all ages. The nootropic includes gotu kola (mentioned above) in addition to other nootropics that boost mental and physical performance.

Nerve Growth Factors

To preserve mental acuity over time, neurogenesis (developing new brain cells) and nerve growth is a major tool.

There are numerous nootropics that can influence nerve growth. Many of them are a bit more experimental (noted below), but some are well-studied and useful for this purpose:

  • Lion’s mane mushroom
  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine
  • Vitamin D
  • L-Theanine
  • PQQ
  • Butyrate (in butter and ghee)
  • Noopept (experimental)

Ancestral Practices and Cognition

Cognition and mental acuity are worthless without friends and community. Humans are social creatures and we need other humans to survive.

According to longevity data gathered for the book Blue Zones, one of the most important tools for longevity is community and companionship [13].

In the study, researchers analyzed the oldest groups of populations in the world (usually over 100 years of age) and consistently found family and community atop their list.

Whether it was family ties in Sardinia, group dynamics in Okinawa, or the community in Loma Linda, California, all of them had strong bonds with other humans.

With all the supplements, exercise, and sleep in the world, the mind still will not perform well without the social ties of others. Maintain these ancestral practices of being part of a tribe and it will support mental acuity and feels good too.

References

  1. https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Mental+Acuity
  2. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24782&_ga=2.250094918.116831302.1498157272-1916887973.1490713010
  3. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/721609.Spark
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24026850
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897704/
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/?report=classic
  7. https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(14)00151-9
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25705824
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24282477
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28922397
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22747190
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19000708
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Zone