What is Mental Acuity? Your Guide to Staying Sharp

What is Mental Acuity? Your Guide to Staying Sharp

What is Mental Acuity? Your Guide to Staying Sharp

Mental acuity is, in the simplest terms, your quickness of thought and sharpness of mind. Mental acuity reflects how well your brain performs—your ability to focus, learn, and recall information, to quickly perceive, understand, process stimuli, and to create associations, reason, make decisions, and think creatively. 

Poor mental acuity, on the other hand, manifests as poorer concentration, memory, and learning capacity, slower information processing, finding it hard to reason, create associations, carry out tasks, and make decisions. In other words, it’s a decline of intellectual abilities.

What Causes a Decline in Mental Acuity?

Your mental sharpness can be affected by both biological and lifestyle factors, which can cause a decline in mental acuity that may be transient or more permanent. A transient decline is similar to what is commonly known as brain fog: you’re noticeably more easily distracted, have difficulty focusing and remembering things, you can’t think as quickly as usual, and every mental task feels more effortful. This is most often caused by lifestyle factors. A more gradual and permanent loss of mental acuity is more likely driven by biological factors—age is the best example. But biology and aging can also be influenced by lifestyle factors, as they can affect the function and health of our body and brain. So let’s see how some of these factors affect mental acuity.


Age is one of the most defining factors for mental acuity. Aging brings about a number of changes in the brain that can affect our cognitive capacities. For example, as we age, the brain tends to lose volume, particularly in the hippocampus, which due to its key role in cognitive functions related to memory can contribute to some of the memory changes that are a normal part of aging [1]. Synaptic plasticity, which is essential for our capacity to learn and store memories, also tends to decline with age [2]. Furthermore, as we age, antioxidant defenses in the brain also decline, leading to a slow accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the development of oxidative stress, which are among the main causes of cognitive aging [3]. Associated with oxidative stress, there is a loss of mitochondrial function in the brain, which can impair the production of cell energy in the brain that’s essential for maintaining mental acuity [4]. This can be further exacerbated by the fact that aging is also associated with poorer vascular function, which affects the delivery to the brain of oxygen and nutrients required for cell energy production and powering cognitive performance [5].

But although age has a massive influence on our mental sharpness, it is not written in stone. The fact is that how age impacts our mind varies widely from person to person and is determined to a large extent by how well we take care of our body and mind, namely through lifestyle choices such as the ones below.


Diet is important to all aspects of health, both of the body and the mind. Unhealthy diets high in processed foods, salt, fried foods, and foods with added sugar can accelerate aging by promoting oxidative stress, unhealthy immune signaling, and metabolic deregulation [6]. Their effects can also be noticed on your mental acuity: high-fat and high-sugar diets have been linked to cognitive deficits associated with the development of oxidative stress, detrimental immune signaling, and poorer vascular function [7–10].  

Physical Inactivity

A sedentary lifestyle is associated with poorer cognitive performance and a higher likelihood of mental acuity decline [1,2]. In the short-term, sedentary behaviors such as prolonged sitting can cause acute impairments in mental performance, particularly executive function [11,12], which includes cognitive abilities such as planning, reasoning, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility (i.e., the ability to shift attention between tasks or stimuli) [13]. In the long term, a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate functional declines as you age, particularly in cardiovascular and metabolic function, which can result in a deterioration of mental acuity [14].

Poor sleep

Sleep helps to keep the brain healthy by allowing for maintenance and regeneration processes to take place [15,16]. How we sleep impacts brain metabolism, learning, memory consolidation, cognitive performance, and mood, not only the next day but also in the long term. When poor sleep is persistent, all the unmet brain maintenance needs start to take a toll on your cognitive abilities: sleep loss and poor sleep quality lead to reduced memory encoding, alertness, vigilance, attention, and processing speed, and consequently, a negative impact on mental acuity. This is observed in individuals of all ages—from adolescents and college students to the elderly [17–20].

How to Measure Mental Acuity

Mental acuity can be measured using neuropsychological tests that assess aspects of cognition and executive function such as memory, attention, information processing speed, cognitive control, working memory, task switching, and reasoning. The most reliable tests are high-quality validated cognitive tests that are most often used to assess brain health and in research settings.

How to Support Mental Acuity

Eat Well

Food supplies all the nutrients your brain needs to function properly. Healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and seafood are sources of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and metabolic precursors that are used for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, cell energy metabolism, building cell membranes, neuronal firing, and signaling pathways, all of which are key for healthy brain function. Furthermore, polyphenols and other beneficial phytonutrients found in healthy foods can help to support the brain’s antioxidant defense systems, maintain a youthful brain, and promote mental acuity [21,22]. This may be particularly important as we age. Healthy dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet have been associated with a slower progression of aging, delayed physical decline, and importantly, better mental acuity in older age [23–25]. 


Exercise has many benefits for brain health that can manifest as better mental acuity. First and foremost, exercise supports healthy cardiovascular function and cerebral blood flow, which helps to ensure that the brain receives all the nutrients and oxygen it needs to power cognitive tasks and maintain healthy structure and function. The benefits of exercise are noticeable in the brain from the molecular to the structural level—from influencing neurotransmitter levels and functional connectivity, to supporting the brain’s structural integrity and plasticity [26–30]. Studies have shown that exercise is linked to improved executive function, mental flexibility, and global cognition in individuals of all ages [31–35].

One of the important benefits of exercise is helping to delay some of the brain changes that develop with age, namely loss of brain volume [30,36,37]. Research in older individuals has shown that exercise can help to delay the age-related decline of hippocampal volume and even increase it [27,38–40]. One particularly interesting study in older adults showed that simply walking for 40 minutes three times a week improved memory and resulted in a 2% increase in hippocampal volume over the course of one year, which corresponded to reversing age-related losses by 1 to 2 years [37]. 

Get Enough Sleep

Getting a proper amount of good quality sleep is crucial for waking up feeling mentally energized, motivated, and with a sharp mind. Sleep is also essential for learning and the consolidation of memory [41]. But if a good night’s sleep is an exception within a pattern of bad nights, there’s only so much it can do for your mental acuity. The key is to try to have consistently good sleep as studies have shown that stable sleep patterns of about 7 hours/night promote the clearance of detrimental metabolites in the brain, healthy brain structure, and mental acuity, particularly executive function, in healthy adults [42–44]. 

Obviously, if you’re a poor sleeper, getting better sleep is not as easy as deciding to eat better or exercise more. But adopting good sleep hygiene practices may help you get sounder sleep: set a sleep schedule; unplug from light-emitting devices 30-60 min before bedtime; make your bedroom dark, silent, relaxing, and at a comfortable cool temperature; and avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime [45,46]. 

Learn a New Skill

Learning a new skill is a great strategy to support mental acuity. Learning something new promotes neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s capacity to adapt and change aspects of its function and structure and what allows us to learn and become more skilled with practice. Neuroplasticity is a key feature underlying cognitive function, but it declines gradually as we age. Mentally and physically stimulating activities such as taking up a musical instrument, learning a new language, cognitive training, learning to juggle, or even playing video games help to maintain and promote functional and structural brain plasticity and neural connectivity. By doing so, they stimulate different aspects of cognition, including memory performance, information processing, attention, and executive function [47–55]. 

Take Supplements

There are several supplements that can promote brain health by supporting the functional and structural status of the brain. By doing so, brain supplements can also support cognitive health and performance. Brain supplements may support processes such as neurotransmitter synthesis, neuronal communication, synaptic plasticity, brain structure, structural plasticity, cerebral blood flow and metabolism, and antioxidant defenses and neuroprotective functions, all of which contribute to promoting mental acuity. Supplements that support cognitive function are also known as nootropics.*

How Can Qualia Help?

Brain supplements target different aspects of cognitive performance, but they can be combined to provide a comprehensive support of cognitive function.* This is Qualia’s formulation approach and the one we used to develop Qualia Mind, our flagship nootropic. 

Our approach acknowledges that our brain is a complex, dynamic, and tightly self-regulated network of interconnected neurobiological processes. Rather than trying to override the brain’s regulatory systems, we aim to support its endogenous capacity for adaptation and upregulation in response to mental challenges.

Qualia Mind combines brain health ingredients with different and complementary mechanisms of activity targeting multiple aspects of healthy brain function and cognitive performance. This results in a supplement that comprehensively supports cognition and mental acuity. You can learn more about it in our article about the science behind Qualia Mind.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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