Food & Exercises to Help Improve Your Mental Health

human brain anatomical model on a plate

Feature Photo by Amel Uzunovic on

Discover the best brain-building foods and exercises to improve cognitive function. Boost your mental health and unleash your brain’s potential.

by Tess DiNapoli

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When we come into this world, we need the proper nutrition and plenty of practice with our newly formed muscles to reach our full potential. As adults, we might not be constantly growing, but our bodies still need good nutrition and exercise to help maintain healthy bodily function. This is especially true with our brain. If you find yourself in a brain fog, these foods and exercises can help improve your cognitive functions and keep your brain working at its best.

Brain-Building Foods

1.Fish Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

You heard right, some fatty foods are good for us! Believe it or not, your brain is actually 60% fat, half of which is made up of omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain uses these components to make new brain and nerve cells. Omega-3 fatty acids are also very important for learning and memory function, as well as cognitive well-being and increased blood flow in the brain. Some studies show that eating fatty fish may help ward off Alzheimer’s and age-related mental decline. Some examples of the fatty fish you should eat include:

  • Salmon
  • Albacore tuna
  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Sardines


Blueberries have many health benefits, and that is why they are considered a superfood. But, they also have specific properties that make them beneficial for your mental health. The dark color of blueberries means they contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Both of these properties work against the inflammation and oxidative stress that contributes to age-related cognitive decline. Antioxidants have also been found to help communication between brain cells. If you don’t like blueberries, try other dark-colored berries like acai berries and blackberries. 


If you’re a coffee-driven individual, you’ll be happy to hear it has positive benefits for your brain! Coffee contains two beneficial components for your brain, caffeine and antioxidants. Caffeine helps improve your mental alertness by blocking a chemical messenger that makes you tired. Caffeine can also help to improve your mood by increasing dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Some studies also show that caffeine helps you to concentrate better.

4.Dark Chocolate

It’s time to ditch the milk chocolate and opt for the chocolate that benefits your brain — dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and caffeine like coffee does, as well as beneficial flavonoids. Flavonoids are a group of antioxidant plant components that help to improve learning and memory while slowing down the mental aging process. Studies also show that dark chocolate improves your mood. So next time you’re looking for a quick snack, add some dark chocolate in moderation to your trail mix!  


While all nuts benefit your health, walnuts are especially good for your mental health because they contain those valuable omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are also rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, both of which fight against inflammation and oxidative stress. These little nuts that look like brains have also been shown in studies on mice to improve memory, motor and learning skills, and anxious behaviors.  

Supplements for Brain Health

If you want a comprehensive approach in which you don’t have to remember to eat certain foods, supplements might be a good choice to add to your healthy diet. Keep in mind that some supplements might interact with prescription drugs. According to experts, some of the best supplements for your mental health are omega-3 fatty acids, creatine, caffeine, L-theanine, vitamin D, choline, resveratrol, and lion’s mane mushrooms. It’s always best to get your brain-building nutrients from your diet, but daily supplements can be helpful for picky eaters and people who often eat on the go.  

Exercises for Mental Clarity

While regular exercises like cardio and strength training are helpful for your overall health, including your brain’s health, there are some specific things you can do to improve your mental sharpness and health.

1.Use Your Five Senses

Studies suggest that focusing on using all five of your body’s senses can help to strengthen your brain. Visit a new restaurant and order food you’ve never tried before. Use all your senses to take in new views, smell new things, taste new cuisine, hear unusual sounds, and touch things you’re not used to touching. Or, take a nature walk and focus on taking it all in, even the local wild edibles!

2.Learn a Skill, Teach a Skill

You can’t teach an old dog a new trick is far from the truth, at least for humans! No matter how old you are, learning a new skill is fun and can help strengthen the connections within your brain. Some studies show that learning a new skill when you are older can help improve memory function. Once you’ve learned a new skill, it helps to teach that skill to another person. In the process, you are using your brain to stay focused and to correct any mistakes you make along the way.

3.Learn New Dance Moves

Dancing in itself is an excellent exercise that gets your heart pumping. But when you learn new dance moves, you help to increase your brain’s memory and processing speed. This gives you the perfect excuse to go out on the town with friends or take a dance class with your partner!

4.Focus On Other People

If you’re not one to notice what’s going on with the people around you, now is the time to start. Focusing on what other people are wearing, what colors they have on, what color their hair is, and whether they have accessories on, for example, can help improve your memory. Taking mental notes about what is happening in their life currently, will not only improve your brain’s health but also help improve your relationships with the people around you.  

Wrapping Up

Now’s your chance to start improving your mental health, which can lead to reduced stress and better overall mood. A healthy and diverse diet combined with daily exercise are the best methods to keep your brain working at peak capacity.

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