Saturday, August 29, 2009

7 Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp and Youthful

Around the time we hit 30, our brains begin a slow, steady downward trajectory, or so popular wisdom would have it.

But cognitive decline is by no means an inescapable side effect of aging. In fact, according to a flurry of new reports, you can counteract age-related changes in the brain with a surprisingly simple regimen of activities guaranteed to nurture and fortify your mental musclepower. Here are seven easy ways to keep your brain quick, sharp, and bristling with youthful vigor.

1. Google Often

When you search the Internet, you engage key centers in your brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning.

And these few clicks may be more mentally stimulating than reading, say UCLA scientists. Their studies found that Internet searching uses neural circuitry that's not activated during reading--but only in people with prior Internet experience. MRI results showed almost 3 times more brain activity in regular Internet searchers than in first-timers, suggesting that repeated Googling can be a great way to build cognitive strength over time.

Tip: Spend around 20 minutes a few days a week searching topics you've always wanted to learn more about—regardless of how seemingly frivolous: Whether you're researching a celebrity's latest pratfalls or musical harmony, the benefits to your brain are the same.

2. Exercise

Yes, exercise can stave off or delay dementia—but did you know it can actually reverse brain aging too?

A team from the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute recently reviewed dozens of past studies and found that aerobic exercise boosts not only speed and sharpness of thought but also the volume of brain tissue. As little as 50 minutes of brisk walking 3 times a week was found to have this brain-expanding effect.

Tip: For an added boost, walk in the park: University of Michigan researchers found that volunteers whose course took them through a tree-filled setting performed 20% better on memory and attention tests than those who walked downtown.

3. Brush and Floss

Oral health is clearly linked to brain health, according to a team of British psychiatrists and dentists.

After studying thousands of subjects ages 20 to 59, they found that gingivitis and periodontal disease were associated with worse cognitive function throughout adult life—not just in later years.

Tip: Follow your dentist's advice—floss daily and brush your teeth for 2 minutes at least once a day.

4. Drink Sparingly

Limiting cocktails is beneficial for cognitive function.

Keep your alcohol consumption within the safe and healthful limit: no more than one drink a day. The more alcohol a person drinks, the smaller his or her total brain volume becomes, according to a recent Wellesley College study. The link between drinking and reduced brain volume was stronger in women—probably because smaller people are more susceptible to alcohol's effects.

Tip: If you like a glass of white wine with dinner, make a spritzer by replacing some of the wine with sparkling water. You'll cut your intake even more.

5. Eat Blueberries

New research shows that the purple-hued fruits may help sharpen your thought processes.

After National Institute on Aging and Tufts University researchers injected male rats with kainic acid to simulate the oxidative stress that occurs with aging, rats that had been fed a diet containing 2% blueberry extract did better navigating a maze than rats that didn't get the compound. In another study, the same researchers found that rats that ate blueberries showed increased cell growth in the hippocampus region of the brain. The researchers theorize that anthocyanin—the dark blue pigment found in blueberries—is responsible for these cognitive changes; it contains chemicals that may cross the blood-brain barrier and lodge in regions that govern learning and memory.

Tip: Stock up on blueberries when they're on sale, and sprinkle them over your cereal or yogurt or fold them into your smoothie. Off-season, buy them frozen; they're every bit as nutritious as fresh.

6. Do Puzzles

Amazingly, you'll knock a decade off your cognitive age.

In a University of Alabama study of nearly 3,000 older men and women, those who participated in 10 60-to 75-minute sessions of brain-boosting exercise sharpened their mental abilities so much that their brains performed like those of people more than 10 years younger.

Tip: Start small—whip out a booklet of basic puzzles when you're riding to work on the train or waiting in a long checkout line. As your skills improve, graduate to more challenging brainteasers.

7. Meditate
More than just a great stress reliever, meditation can also enhance your brain’s gray matter

Participants in a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston appear to have experienced growth in the cortex, an area of the brain that controls memory, language, and sensory processing. In addition, meditators in a University of Kentucky study performed better than their non-meditating counterparts on a series of mental acuity tests.

Tip: Make the practice a regular habit—the participants in a recent study meditated an average of 40 minutes a day. But you can start with 15 on your lunch break or before you leave for work. Sit upright, close your eyes, and focus on whatever you're experiencing in the present moment, whether it's birds chirping in the distance or just the sound of your own breathing.

Get Smarter Every Day: Give your mind a workout—and boost memory, concentration, vocab, and more, with Prevention.com’s brain games.

2 comments:

suZen said...

These are GREAT suggestions - I believe in all of them - plus reading, lots of reading and learning new things, a new language, a new hobby, something that challenges. In my case, I have the computer/blogging challenge. At 62 this isn't easy, my dear, but I keep telling myself its great brain exercise, albeit a frustrating event! ha! My husband and I play a LOT of trivia too. It's funny really, we try to make it seem a fun thing, but it is such necessary exercise. Believe me, at this age it is no longer an option.

AC Associates said...

Suzen,
Believe me, at 51 it is a must to keep my brain busy too! Sometimes when I forget something or walk into a room and wonder why I went there...oh boy...I do chuckle, but think if that could be the start of something more.
I try to keep very active with reading, writing, computer games etc...

 
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