How to Improve Cognitive Function: 10 Steps to Strengthen the Mind

Wellness As You Age

Many of us worry about declines in cognitive function. And rightly so! With Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related health conditions on the rise, it’s vital that we do as much as we can right now to set up a firm foundation for our brains to thrive.

Cognitive function refers to mental skills as opposed to motor skills. Cognitive dysfunction can lead to brain fog, memory loss, trouble concentrating, trouble speaking, or even the inability to live independently. Common causes of cognitive decline include age, mental health, heart health, diet, level of activity, social life, and genetics.

As a functional medicine expert, I’ve spent years learning about how the brain works and the best ways to support cognitive function, mental clarity, and a strong memory. By incorporating my lifestyle change tips, you can promote vibrant cognition — regardless of age.

1. Maintain A Healthy Diet

When it comes to diet, I always practice what I preach. Foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals are a must for healthy cognition.

According to the latest medical research, Alzheimer’s is now being referred to as “Type III” diabetes due to its connection with high blood sugar. (1) Diabetes is a known risk factor for dementia, but studies are continuing to show just how much sugar can hurt cognitive function.

An important type of food that fuels your brain is healthy fats. That’s why a Mediterranean diet full of healthy fat-rich foods like fish and olive oil always makes the list of the best diets to mitigate dementia risk.

Read Next: My Guide to a Plant-Based Keto Diet

2. Engage In Regular Physical Activity

Keep moving. I make sure to exercise daily, but simply moving can help your cognitive health. I recommend even just walking around the house or the neighborhood, specifically in the mornings.

Healthy cognition may be supported specifically by aerobic physical exercise, dance, and gentle meditative exercises like yoga or tai chi.

Not only does exercise help you stay active and independent as you age, but daily movement has also been shown in studies to mitigate and, in some cases, prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. (2)

3. Get Quality Sleep

This one goes beyond your brain health. Getting 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep is paramount to whole body health, but I want to emphasize its importance to cognitive function.

Getting enough sleep can actually lower risk of dementia. (3) Researchers believe this is due to the fact that, when you sleep, your brain clears out abnormal proteins and works to solidify memories, leading to a healthier brain and better memory.

Here are a few ways to improve your sleep:

  • Consistent sleep schedule
  • Reduction of noise in your sleep area
  • Not looking at screens an hour before bed (without blue light glasses)
  • Avoiding caffeine 8-12 hours before bedtime

4. Manage Stress Effectively

A little stress is alright — our bodies can deal with it. However, prolonged periods of stress expose your body to more cortisol than it is designed to handle. Chronic stress messes with your holistic health, especially your cognitive function.

Ways to handle stress more effectively include:

Regular meditation has been linked to increased cortical thickness, particularly in brain regions associated with attention, sensory processing, and emotional regulation. Known as cognitive reserve, increased thickness provides a protective buffer to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. (5)

Listening to music or playing an instrument activates various regions of our brain, stimulating neural connections and promoting neuron plasticity.

5. Stay Mentally Active

Staying mentally active can take many forms, but brain training activities may improve cognitive skills, so they’re vital.

I am still trying to figure this one out. Since part of my career is online, I have to regulate my time spent on social media. These social media apps are the bane of mental activity, not to mention YouTube, Netflix, and playing games mindlessly on my phone.

To maintain vibrant brain function, continuously challenge and stimulate your cognitive abilities with problem-solving. I recommend engaging in jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, reading a book, or learning new things like a foreign language. (6, 7, 8) Such activities stimulate neural pathways, enhance memory retention, and promote brain cell plasticity.

Our understanding of the mind-body connection continues to evolve as we gain more insight into how mental health impacts physical health and vice versa. New research is actually showing people with depression or anxiety are at an increased risk of developing dementia. (9)

6. Socialize Regularly

Not many conventional doctors will recommend a healthy social life to treat cognitive issues. But I’m not a very conventional doctor. Regularly socializing with friends, family, and coworkers can improve your cognition.

Social interaction and maintaining strong relationships contribute to cognitive well-being. In fact, studies have shown that isolation can lead to brain atrophy, so staying involved in your community is vital to keeping your mind sharp over time. (10)

You should engage in conversations, join community groups, or volunteer to keep your mind active and socially connected. Ways to stay socially active include:

  • Hosting a game night
  • Attending community potlucks
  • Going to local concerts
  • Visiting new coffee shops
  • Using apps like Bumble to meet and make new friends
  • Going to or getting more involved somewhere, like a church

7. Avoid Tobacco And Limit Alcohol

Tobacco ruins your whole body health, especially in your mouth and brain. Alcohol is literally classified as a neurotoxin. (11) No wonder that avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol to 1 drink a day at maximum can help with cognitive health.

The negative impact of smoking and excessive alcohol on the brain cannot be overstated. “Cigarette smokers have cognitive deficits,” says a recent study, “in auditory-verbal [learning,] visuospatial learning, visuospatial memory, cognitive efficiency, [executive function,] general intelligence, and processing speed.” (12) Consider CBD products which have fewer side effects and more health benefits.

Recent research also shows that alcohol leads to a greater risk of cognitive decline — especially in the context of alcohol use disorder. (13) Consider non-alcoholic alternatives, such as herbal teas, nootropics, zero-alcohol wine, and alcohol-free beer.

LISTEN: Geeking out With Jen Batchelor on Nootropics, Adaptogens, Botanicals

8. Keep Blood Pressure And Cholesterol In Check

Your cardiovascular health is strongly associated with your whole-body health. Your body is brilliantly designed and more interconnected than you may realize.

Studies have found that the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol levels, heart diseases, and blood sugar, can also negatively impact your brain health. (14)

9. Manage Chronic Conditions

There are many chronic systemic health conditions that may reduce cognitive function. In fact, I would argue that a majority of chronic diseases impact cognitive health, at least somewhat. If you’re not in top form, your brain function usually suffers.

Chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, depression, and obesity are all linked to reduced cognitive performance. (15, 16, 17, 18)

Check out my Metabolic Recharge regimen to fight obesity and support systemic wellness.

I want to emphasize the importance of regular medical check-ups and health management. Functional doctors pay more attention to identifying and treating chronic conditions than the average conventional healthcare worker.

10. Embrace A Holistic Approach To Wellness

Functional doctors like myself will approach holistic wellness in a uniquely effective way. Instead of conventional doctors who prescribe expensive, manufactured pharmaceuticals with tons of side effects just to mask some symptoms, functional doctors identify and address the root cause.

Check out this Brain-Adrenal Balancer from my high-quality supplement store.

A holistic approach has many facets — that’s why it’s holistic! It’s important to focus on bioindividuality and personalized care, recognizing that we are all unique and doctors shouldn’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

@drwillcole Does this sound familiar? You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be seen. You deserve to be healthy. We see countless patients at the telehealth clinic who are going through similar situations. You don't have to do it alone. You don't have to suffer through your symptoms. Vibrant health IS possible. Click the link in my bio to learn more about the clinic, where I see patients from anywhere via telehealth, and to get the help you deserve. #taobw #drwillcole #fatigue #allergies #mold #moldexposure #crohnsdisease #multiplesclerosis #MS #hashimotos #moldsymptoms ♬ original sound - Dr. Will Cole

Get Support For Optimal Cognitive Function

I get so excited when new patients schedule appointments for cognitive health. There’s so much you can do to improve cognition — age-related or otherwise — that is hard to get except from holistic practitioners.

Thankfully, there are many ways to optimize brain health. By using these tips as a roadmap, you can support your brain no matter your age, risk factors, or pre-existing conditions.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.


Yes, it’s possible for a person to recover from mild cognitive impairment and regain some cognitive function. Depending on the root cause of cognitive decline, you may have vastly different odds of regaining that function.

If you have Alzheimer’s, you may only be able to slow the decline. If unhealthy sleep or stress is causing cognitive dysfunction, treating the root cause may reverse the decline.

I recommend puzzles and new skills for speeding up brain processing. Jigsaws, crosswords, Sudoku, Wordle, learning a new musical instrument or language, dancing, and even video games can all support healthy brain speed.

Fatty fish! Seriously, the omega-3s found in fatty fish are great, and any foods rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, or healthy fats may help improve working memory and focus.

For a short-term brain boost, consume caffeine from coffee, tea, or chocolate — just not within 8 hours of bedtime.

Omega-3 fatty acids come in fish oil supplements, which are great for brain health, but that’s not it. I typically recommend a vitamin B complex, vitamin D2 plus vitamin K, L-theanine, magnesium, and ashwagandha — to name a few.

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  2. Alty, J., Farrow, M., & Lawler, K. (2020). Exercise and dementia prevention. Practical neurology, 20(3), 234-240.
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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, Gut Feelings, and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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