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This 4-Step Breakfast Routine May Help Protect Your Brain as You Age, Science Says

Tips to start your day off right while simultaneously caring for your cognitive health as you age.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

It's a normal part of the aging process for your body to undergo many types of changes. While you'll notice shifts in your joints, skin, bones, muscles, and even your ability to manage your weight, one of the most frustrating age-related changes is what can happen with your brain. Even though age-related cognitive decline is an expected part of growing older, there are steps you can take to slow down the process. In fact, having the right morning breakfast routine may be able to help slow your brain's aging.

Before we get to the breakfast routine, let's look at what can affect how quickly your brain ages. Cognitive decline can be impacted by many different factors, such as how active you are, how much sleep you're getting, whether or not you smoke tobacco, and what your overall diet looks like. According to the National Institute of Aging, there is a long list of steps you can take to care for your cognitive health as you age, based on these factors. This includes things like keeping your mind active, watching your blood pressure, staying social, limiting alcohol and tobacco consumption, and eating nutrient-dense food.

If you're looking to implement healthier habits for your brain, your morning routine is a great place to start. This is why we've crafted a 4-step breakfast routine to slow brain aging, which is based on expert input from dietitians and scientific research. Read on to learn more, then make sure to check out the 5 Worst Foods for Your Brain.

Start your morning with water after getting a full night's sleep

drinking water

The first step in your breakfast routine technically begins the night before, because you'll want to set yourself up to get an adequate amount of sleep. According to a recent study published in Sleep, shorter durations of nightly rest are associated with faster cognitive decline and brain aging. So, do your best to get to bed early the night before and give yourself the freedom to wake up at a time that provides you with enough rest.

Once you're awake, the next thing you'll want to do is grab a glass of water. Your body naturally loses fluid and electrolytes throughout the night, especially if you sleep with your mouth open. Also, if you eat salty food, drink alcohol, or take dehydrating medication before you fall asleep, you may be more dehydrated in the morning as well. According to Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, dehydration can speed up the brain aging process in those with dementia. This is reason enough to make sure you're staying hydrated throughout the day and drinking plenty of fluids, and replenishing your body first thing in the morning is an easy way to start.

Fuel up with tea, a light snack, & get some movement in

fitness woman in woods demonstrating workout for people in their 50s

Staying physically active is important for your brain health as you age, so the next step in your routine is to get a little bit of movement in. This can be light yoga, a brisk walk, a trip to the gym, a bike ride, or even a fun morning dance session. According to the CDC, consistent movement can help with anxiety, memory, problem-solving, and having better emotional balance. One study even found that in adults who are more inactive and don't regularly exercise, dementia was nearly twice as common than in those who have a more active lifestyle.

Before you get moving, though, you'll want to fuel your body with a light snack, like fruit and nuts, for example.

"Wild blueberries and walnuts can fuel your body with brain health-supporting nutrients that can sustain you while you include a little morning exercise," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility. "Specifically, eating walnuts has been found to possibly delay cognitive decline in high-risk groups, and eating wild blueberries may help older adults experiencing slower cognitive processing to think faster."

Manaker also suggests drinking a cup of green or black tea early in the morning. "Caffeine and L-theanine in tea may offer cognitive benefits and improve mental clarity and work performance throughout the day," says Manaker. "In fact, a cross-sectional study showed that participants who consumed more tea felt less tired and reported higher levels of subjective work performance."

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Enjoy a balanced breakfast with another person or while doing a puzzle

couple eating breakfast

Eating a balanced breakfast may be one of the most crucial steps in this morning routine, and it's the perfect way to pack in some important brain-healthy nutrients.

"After exercise, a balanced breakfast that includes a source of choline, like eggs, can fuel your brain," says Manaker.

Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements, adds that including antioxidants and key minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc can also help your cognition as you age.

"Iron is necessary for carrying oxygen to the brain and is found in foods such as red meat, eggs, and fortified cereals, magnesium is involved in brain function and is found in nuts, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains, and zinc is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and is found in animal protein, nuts, and seeds," says Best. "Antioxidants also help protect the brain from oxidative stress, and some breakfast options highest in antioxidants include berries, cherries, apples, prunes, pecans, and spinach."

Once you've chosen your hearty, balanced breakfast, you may want to enjoy it with a friend, family member, or while you call that person you haven't spoken to in a while. This is because research shows that socializing can improve cognitive performance in older adults. So, regardless of what age you are, talking with loved ones while you eat can help keep your brain sharp, and can also help you get in the habit of staying social as you get older.

Another way you can enjoy your breakfast while improving your cognitive health is by playing a mind game or doing a puzzle as you eat. Research shows that brain training games can help improve memory, attention, and focus in the short term, and some studies have even found that it may have longterm effects on reducing risk of dementia.

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Treat yourself to some coffee

woman drinking coffee

For the coffee lovers out there, your last step in this routine is to freely enjoy your favorite cup of Joe. There are multiple research studies that support the connection between caffeine consumption and cognitive performance, especially in older adults. Some studies have even found that regular coffee consumption may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. If you're not already a coffee drinker, there's no need to worry, you can still get some brain-healthy benefits from drinks like tea, as mentioned above.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha