The nervous system is the body’s command centre. It guides almost everything we think, do, and feel by allowing the body to process information and respond appropriately. For this reason, we rely on our nervous system to survive, so it’s important to take care of it.

With that said, here are 10 science-backed ways to take care of your nervous system.

What is the nervous system?

What is the nervous system

The nervous system is the body’s internal communication system. It’s made up of two parts – the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord, and the PNS is made up of all the remaining nerves in the body. The PNS can also be subdivided into smaller components: the somatic and autonomic nervous systems.

The somatic nervous system involves bodily responses that a person can command at will (for example, moving a muscle), and the autonomic nervous system is responsible for involuntary actions that we need to stay healthy (such as pumping blood).

Within the nervous system, nerve cells receive information through the body’s different senses: smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste. This information is then transported to and interpreted by the brain, so it can respond with the necessary body functions.

The nervous system guides almost everything we think, feel, and do; including functions like movement, memory, digestion, heartbeat, breathing, response to pain, and body temperature regulation. As a result, we rely on our nervous system every moment of every day to stay safe and healthy.

10 science-backed ways to take care of your nervous system

science-backed ways to take care of your nervous system

So now we know how important our nervous system is, what can we do to take care of it?

Research shows that a number of factors can increase the risk of nerve damage. However, while some of these factors, such as age, can’t be controlled, others, including lifestyle habits like smoking, can be.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the steps you can take to take care of your nervous system…

1. Walk barefoot from time to time

Our feet have over 200,000 nerve endings, which is more than any other per square inch area of the body. Among other things, these nerve endings exist to send messages to the brain to help maintain balance and safety while you walk. Like any other part of the nervous system, the nerve endings in your feet benefit from being stimulated.

Walking barefoot is a fantastic way to stimulate the body’s entire communication system and has been found to be particularly effective outside where there are a larger number of surfaces, textures, and temperatures.

This study found that physical contact with the earth’s surface can help to regulate the nervous system and circadian rhythm; improving body temperature regulation, digestion, blood pressure, and hormone secretion.

2. Limit alcohol intake

Alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways, which can make it more difficult to control balance, speech, memory, and other motor abilities. And long-term heavy drinking has been found to negatively affect the nervous system – for example, by altering neuron structure, including a reduction in size.

Another study noted that alcohol can destroy brain cells and depress the central nervous system. Therefore, excessive drinking over a long period of time may lead to serious issues with cognitive function and memory. Additional research suggests that prolonged heavy drinking may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.

The NHS advises drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across three days or more. For guidance on unit size, head over to the NHS website. Alternatively, if you’d like to work towards cutting alcohol out of your diet entirely, you might be interested in our article; 13 affordable and tasty alcohol-free drinks.

3. Centre your diet around whole foods

Our diet plays a key role in allowing our nervous system to perform at its best. Experts advise centering your diet around whole, nutrient-rich foods, and limiting your intake of processed foods.

Unhealthy diets that are high in saturated fat and sugars are linked with chronic inflammation, which can increase the risk of nerve-damaging conditions like diabetes and autoimmune disorders.

This study also found a strong link between a high intake of ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline – including the ability to learn, reason, remember, and problem-solve.

Get one month of Rest Less Events for free

Get unlimited access to 80+ online events every month. Discover educational talks and lectures, join beginner friendly fitness classes, discuss your favourite novels at book club, and explore new hobbies with creative workshops!

Claim my 1 month free trial

4. Make sure you’re eating enough healthy fats

Contrary to diet culture, having enough fat in your diet is essential for health – and this includes the health of your nervous system.

Nerve cells are wrapped in a protective layer called the myelin sheath, which helps to keep them healthy and functioning. There’s evidence to suggest that eating enough healthy fats can help to maintain the health of this protective coating by preventing it from eroding in a process known as demyelination.

Examples of healthy fats include avocado, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds. If you’d like more ideas for ways to add healthy fats to your diet, the Mediterranean diet and foods rich in omega-3s are good places to start.

Make sure you’re eating enough healthy fats

5. Exercise regularly

Staying active has so many benefits, and it’s important for the health of our nervous system.

Among other things, exercise raises heart rate, which increases oxygen flow to the brain and releases hormones like serotonin. These hormones are important for brain cell and blood vessel health, as well as the development of new brain cells.

Exercise has also been found to enhance the structure of white matter (brain tissue responsible for passing messages throughout the nervous system), and improve its neuroplasticity – which is the brain’s ability to adapt to and make new connections. Other studies have also found that engaging in regular exercise can reprogram ageing brains and counteract inflammatory changes that can impact brain function.

If you haven’t yet found a form of exercise that you enjoy, head over to the fitness and exercise section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from team sports to guides on yoga, Tai Chi, cycling, and walking. Or, for more information on the link between exercise and the brain, check out our article; How exercise can lead to better brain health.

6. Make sure you’re getting enough nerve-friendly vitamins and minerals

Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of essential vitamins and minerals is important for overall health. But research shows that, alongside omega-3s, some vitamins and minerals are particularly important for nervous system health and function.

Vitamins B1, B6, and B12 are called neurotropic vitamins because they work together to energise nerves, repair nerve fibres, and protect nerves against environmental influences. For example, studies show that B1 serves as an antioxidant, B6 balances nerve metabolism, and B12 helps to keep the myelin sheath healthy (the protective coating at the end of nerves).

We also know from science that magnesium is essential for the survival of and function of neurons; brain cells rely on minerals like potassium to communicate with each other; and calcium plays a key role in nerve cell repairs.

For more information on the essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website.

Take control of your menopause with 20% off Linwoods Menoligna

Reduce feelings of tiredness and fatigue and promote hormone activity regulation with Linwoods Menoligna – designed to help support you during the menopause stage of life.

Get 20% off with code RESTMENO20. (Offer valid on Menoligna only)

Shop now

7. Take steps to lower or regulate blood sugar levels

Having high blood sugar levels over a long period of time can damage the small blood vessels that are responsible for supplying the nerves in your body. This prevents sufficient oxygen and essential nutrients from reaching the nerves, which can damage them.

For this reason, neuropathy (nerve damage) is a common long-term complication of diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, including numbness – particularly in the hands and feet.

Therefore, taking steps to lower or regulate your blood sugar levels is important for nervous system health. If you’d like some guidance on this, check out our article; 12 science-backed ways to lower (or regulate) blood sugar levels.

8. Aim to get your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in a healthy range too

Just like high blood sugar levels, having cholesterol or blood pressure that’s too high can have a negative effect on nervous system health.

For example, a common symptom of familial hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol passed down from a relative) is a buildup of cholesterol deposits in the Achilles tendon, hands, or elbow tendons. If these deposits build up too much over time, they can begin to put pressure on the nerves in the hands, feet, ankles, and elbows.

The brain – which forms a vital part of the nervous system – can also be negatively affected by high cholesterol and blood pressure. Research suggests that prolonged high blood pressure may play a role in dementia and cognitive decline by damaging arteries in the brain.

High cholesterol is also linked with a higher risk of diabetes, which we know increases the risk of neuropathy.

If you’d like to take steps to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, it’s worth having a read of our articles; 5 tips to help lower cholesterol and 10 natural ways to lower blood pressure.

9. Take steps to manage stress

The nervous system plays a central role in our physical response to stress by generating what’s known as our fight or flight response.

While experiencing some level of stress can be beneficial – for example, it’s been linked with improved immunity and cognitive function – chronic stress can have a negative impact on our health, including our nervous system.

This is because when the body produces too much of the stress hormone cortisol, it can begin to interfere with communication between neurons – potentially affecting memory and reflexes.

For example, this study found that chronic stress led to the degradation of the brain cells that regulate neural communication (astrocytes). This is because, when under stress, astrocytes shrink away from synapses (the structures that allow information to pass from cell to cell via neurotransmitters), which disrupts communication between nerve cells.

For this reason, taking steps to manage stress levels is important for keeping your nervous system healthy. You’ll find plenty of tips, including breathing exercises for stress relief and simple stress-relieving activities, in the healthy mind section of our website.

10. Quit smoking

The nerves in our body need sufficient blood flow in order to receive the oxygen and nutrients that allow them to function properly. It’s much more difficult for damaged nerves, or nerves that receive less than enough oxygen, to communicate with the brain and send proper signals.

As a result, smoking cigarettes – which narrows blood vessels and restricts blood flow – is strongly linked with an increased risk of nerve damage, and therefore neuropathy – leading to a range of potential symptoms like numbness and tingling.

With that said, quitting can be one of the most beneficial steps you can take for your nervous system health. If you’d like some support, you can find information about stop smoking services on the NHS website.

Final thoughts…

Guiding everything from walking and breathing to thinking and feeling emotions, the nervous system is central to our health and wellbeing. So, it’s important that we take good care of it. And the good news is that there are plenty of science-backed ways to do so.

For further reading, head over to the general health section of our website. Here, you’ll find information on everything from digestive health to skin conditions and important health checks.

What steps do you take to look after your nervous system? Do you have any more tips that you’d like to share? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.