Do you ever feel like your mental processes slow down as you get older? Do you have times when you feel “fuzzy” and have trouble concentrating? Maybe your brain needs a little exercise!
If you have doubts that exercising your brain does any good, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that seniors who practiced brain-stimulating activities more than once a week over a 20-year period reduced their risk of dementia by an amazing 63%!
You know that exercising your body helps you stay in shape and feel good, but maybe your brain isn’t getting the workouts it needs to stay sharp. Here are a few proven brain boosters to keep your mind in tip-top shape.
Regular aerobic exercise gets blood flowing to all parts of your body, including your brain. A daily cardiovascular workout can improve the way you feel and think as well as reducing stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise can increase brain volume and the white matter that aids connectivity between brain cells more than those that involve stretching and toning. Thirty minutes of strenuous physical activity three or four times a week should be enough to keep both your body and your mind in shape.
Eat small, frequent meals.
You already know how consuming a huge meal in one sitting makes you feel tired and sleepy, but did you know it may also affect your brain function? Your brain needs a regular flow of energy, and for that you should eat several small meals per day that are high in fiber and have moderate amounts of fat and protein. This low-glycemic diet is broken down more slowly by the body than one that’s high in processed sugars and starches.
Also, you should eat lots of foods that are high in the antioxidants that keep your brain in top working order by preventing cholesterol from clogging up your arteries and blocking blood flow to the brain. Good bets are carrots, beets, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, grapes and berries.
Be good to your heart.
Age-related damage to the brain can be caused by circulatory problems, so watch your weight while avoiding smoking and too much saturated fat. Hypertension and Type II diabetes are preventable diseases that can negatively affect your brain. Healthy habits are good for your brain as well as your body.
Get a good night’s sleep.
A recent study found that a lack of sleep may cause protein to build up on the synapses of your brain, making it harder to think and learn new tasks. Plus, years of poor sleep have been linked to cognitive decline in old age. Nothing can make you feel more alert and ready to take on the world than a good night’s sleep!
Do you feel your brain getting stronger already? I hope you didn’t forget what we are discussing here. But if you did that’s exactly why you should keep reading because there are more ways to keep your brain functioning at peak performance that are easy to work into your daily routine.
Don’t give up coffee and tea.
Caffeine drinks have gotten a bad rap over the years, and while there’s no doubt that too much soda isn’t good for you, coffee and tea may have positive health benefits. Recent studies show that two to four cups of coffee per day may help to slow normal cognitive decline as well as decreasing the incidence of Alzheimer’s by 30-60%.
These benefits may be due to the caffeine found in coffee and tea, or maybe the antioxidants, but this is one pick-me-up that won’t put you down later. If you prefer tea, several varieties have brain-boosting benefits. Peppermint stimulates the brain and promotes concentration, while lemon balm tea aids in retrieving information stored on the brain. Both green and black teas have properties that help to prevent memory loss.
Eat more fish.
We’ve all heard for years that fish is brain food, and it looks like that’s really true.
Our finny friends are loaded with essential fatty acids like Omega 3s that are necessary for optimal brain function. Some scientists even credit the evolution of human cognitive powers to the introduction of fish to our diets. The best sources of Omega 3s are fatty fish like salmon and light tuna. Aim for two six-ounce servings per week of these fish, plus add other items high in Omega 3s like walnuts and flaxseed oil to your diet.
Stress is bad for you in many ways, and one of them is by releasing toxic chemicals into the areas of the brain that control memory. We all have our favorite ways of reducing stress, but if you’ve been using chemical means like alcohol or tranquilizers, maybe it’s time you discovered more natural methods like yoga or meditation.
Try brain teasers.
One strong predictor of cognitive decline is lack of education. If you want to keep your mind sharp, give it a workout! Keep your brain active by constantly challenging it to do new things. Games, crossword puzzles and all kinds of activities that force you to think and react are helping to keep your brain young!
For maximum results, cross-train your brain by alternating exercises that work the left side, which controls verbal memory and logic, with those that work the right side that controls visual memory. If you’re hooked on one game, switch things up by trying out new games that will force you to pick up new skills.
The brain is like a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it gets. For a brain that keeps getting stronger as you age, keep learning new things. Why not take a course in something that interests you? Or master a foreign language? Most communities have places where you can take classes in art, cooking and many other subjects. Isn’t there something you’ve always been curious about but have never really explored?
Don’t be a recluse.
People who maintain a strong social life as they get older are more likely to retain their language, memory and abstract thinking skills. It’s more helpful if you have friends who can stimulate you mentally and intellectually as well as share your interests. Why not organize trips to concerts and museums or start a book club?
There’s no way to actually turn back aging, but with the right exercise, diet and healthy habits, you can keep both your mind and body in the best shape possible!
Written on 10/2/2013 by Linda Cauthen.
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