As we grow older, our brain’s processing speed slows down causing memory loss and problems with retaining new information. Follow these simple 6 steps and improve brain health as you age.
1. Do the math
It may seem almost too obvious to be true, but flexing your intellectual muscles on a regular basis will keep you mentally in shape. Researchers recommend playing mind teaser games, math problems and even crossword puzzles, which require intense focus and stimulate learning, to keep our thinking sharp. Playing games such as Monopoly or trivia games also keeps the mind attentive to details. Remember the old adage, use it or lose it.
2. Eat brain food
Make sure your body gets plenty of brain food. To get plenty of the famed brain builder, omega-3 fats, enjoy lots of healthy extra virgin olive oil. Eat walnuts, berries and flax seeds. Add Marine Phytoplankton to your juice or water.
If you are not following vegan or vegetarian diet, enjoy occasional eggs, fish and seafood, especially muscles, sardines, salmon, and tuna, atop a bed of swiss chard, a green source of magnesium involved in energy production, some spinach, one among many leafy greens that are shown to support cognitive longevity, and a side of broccoli, known to assist memory function and slow aging.
Some of you will love this one: coffee. It’s rich in brain-cell-protecting antioxidants. The caffeine in coffee and other sources, such as dark chocolate, stimulates mental focus, altertness and, last but not least, production of dopamine. Depending on your sensitivity, 2-5 6 oz. cups may be considered a healthy dose (if in doubt, check with your healthcare provider!). Sweeten with a touch or a bunch of honey, full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and, finally, balance that caffeine with plenty of water. Dehydration negatively affects your whole body, including your brain.
Both sleep and regular, daily periods of R&R are a vital part of living well and thinking clearly. Research shows that there are metabolic functions which only occur while you sleep. The effects of sleep deprivation upon your brain and body imitate closely those of drunkenness. The real catch, though, is that unlike the sudden tipsiness after a few martinis, people with sleep deprivation tend not to notice the gradual effect; that is, they’re in denial. Consider sleep a vital nutrient, because it is. Your brain absolutely requires adequate rest for optimal function.
4. Stress Less
If your life perpetuates stress in your body, it could be killing you slowly. Stress has its proper place in our lives. “Acute stress” can be a normal, healthy response to a valid stressor, such as an explosion, or a bit of urgent news. In that case, it triggers the fight or flight response, heightening awareness and problem solving. But chronic stress happens when an individual experiences stress on a regular basis without healthy relief. It puts us in perpetual fight or flight mode. Unrelieved chronic stress will interfere with memory, learning, decision making and concentration. Ditch deep fried junk food, refined flours and sugars that spike blood sugar and mimic the body’s chemical response to stress. If you must, schedule down time where you’re not being hyper stimulated by ambient noise, stressful movie plots, etc. Go for walks. Enjoy the quiet of early mornings. Raise your heart rate with daily exercise. Sing your favourite songs. Journal. The pleasure in these activities changes your mind and actually displaces negativity. Down time also makes space for you to think things through, consider new strategies, and can even empower you to make tough changes. Or, consider professional counsel, a wonderful way to gain outside perspective and broaden your own. The key is to be proactive. Do more things that relax you, as if relieving stress were a vitamin or pill. Take it seriously and you will see serious transformation in your body and mind.
5. Laugh A Lot
According to scientists, including laughter expert Lee Berk DrPH of Loma University, laughter reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases endorphins (feel-good hormones). A study done in 2007 found that “elevated cortisol was associated with poorer cognitive function.” Conversely, laughter-induced endorphins improve memory and spatial intelligence. They also cause a normal form of local amnesia, allowing you to forget “extraneous details of a task (allowing focusing on main events) and prevent extinction of a learned task…” Despite some current fads, Dr. Berk says that faking it isn’t going to make it, but genuine spontaneous laughter will give you all of these benefits and more, including strengthened immune system, tension release, stress relief, improved sleep and slower aging.
6. Work Out
Research is revealing that exercise is major brain food. For generations neuroanatomists believed that the human nervous system was fixed after birth, having no regenerative powers. But as of the 1990s, scientists have found otherwise, discovering a process called neurogenesis, which means birth of neurons. Yes, technically, our neurons can make babies well into our 80s. In 2008 researchers discovered that regular physical exercise increased the birth of neurons in mice and reversed some of the effects of aging, including cognitive dysfunction. The results raised not a few eyebrows concerning the impact of exercise-induced neurogenesis on prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
It also has anti-depressant effects. Lab tests found that exercise “enhances spatial learning in young and aged mice (and)…increases plasticity in the hippocampus, a key structure for cognitive function and stress-related pathologies such as depression.” This means that your neighbor’s daily Zumba fix is making – and keeping – her smarter. Just beware, overdoing exercise causes a stress response in the body, and reverses the cognitive benefits. Balance exercise with nutrition, rest, and belly laughter, and be brilliant.