"Working out" your brain is only slightly different from working out the rest of your body. If anything, it's easier because such a wide array of activities is beneficial.
If you are interested in keeping your brain sharp, no matter what your age, here are the key activities to indulge in.
Physical activity does not just benefit your waist size. It also produces beneficial changes in your brain, including:
- Encouraging the growth of new cells by increasing oxygen flow to your brain
- Boosting growth factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps new nerve cells to survive
- Increasing neurotransmitters in your brain that play a role in cognition
2. Challenge Your Mind
As the saying goes, "Use it or lose it." It's thought that some of the forgetfulness and loss of mental acuity that comes along with aging is caused, at least in part, by non-use.
In fact, another study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that seniors who participated in mentally challenging activities about once a week for a 20-year period reduced the risk of dementia by 7 percent. Those who engaged in these activities more often reduced their risk even more -- by 63 percent!
To keep your mind on its toes, try out a new hobby that will get you thinking, such as:
- Learning how to play a musical instrument
- Playing Sudoku, crossword puzzles, cards or board games
- Learning a foreign language
- Creative writing
What you eat has a direct impact on your brain function, and if you've ever indulged in a mid-afternoon junk-food binge, then felt like your head was stuck in a fog for the rest of the day, you understand what we're saying. The best foods for your brain include:
- Antioxidants from fruits and veggies. One study by researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that beagles fed a high-antioxidant died had improved cognitive skills. And, rats fed strawberries and blueberries have been shown to enjoy improved coordination, concentration and short-term memory.
- Fish. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been found to be very important for brain function (just be careful to eat this in moderation due to potential contamination with mercury).
Meanwhile, you definitely want to avoid trans fats for your brain health. These dangerous fats have been linked to a host of mental problems, including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
4. Listen to Some Music
A study published in the journal Heart & Lung found that people who listened to music while they exercised performed more than twice as well on a verbal fluency test than people who listened to no music. The test was designed to challenge the part of the brain that deals with planning and abstract thought.
5. Have a Drink?
While too much alcohol can cause you serious health problems, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one-half to one drink a day may be beneficial for your brain.
In fact, in the study of over 12,000 elderly women, those who drank light to moderate amounts of alcohol daily had a 20 percent lower risk of having problems with their mental abilities later in life than women who did not drink at all.
6. Sleep Enough
During sleep, your mental energy is restored. Don't get enough of it and important skills like planning, problem solving, learning, concentration, memory and alertness will all become more difficult. Further, the less sleep you get, the worse off you'll be.
"If you have been awake for 21 hours straight, your abilities are equivalent to someone who is legally drunk," says Sean Drummond from the University of California, San Diego in New Scientist.
However, just a few nights of not enough sleep can produce similar effects.
Meditation has been found to produce both short-term and permanent changes in the brain. In fact, researchers at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that meditation increases brain size and may help slow some aspects of cognitive aging.
Generally, what's harmful to your heart also is also harmful to your brain. Make no mistake about it: While fried potato skins are busting your buttons, there's also a portion that gets shuttled up through your arteries to your gray matter.
Saturated fats, for example, clog arteries that lead to your brain, putting you at risk of stroke, while omega-3 fatty acids -- the good fats found in fish -- are helpful for your brain because they help keep your arteries clear. They also alter your neurotransmitters and reduce depression.
Below is a list of real anti-aging foods to keep your brain young
|Nuts||Nuts contain monounsaturated fats to keep your arteries clear, as well as levels of precursors of serotonin to boost mood.||1 ounce of nuts a day is just right. (More is fine, but be careful of calorie overload.) An ounce is about 12 walnuts or 24 almonds.||Men: 3.3 years younger.|
Women: 4.4 years younger.
especially wild salmon, whitefish, tilapia, catfish, flounder, mahi mahi
|Fish contain artery-clearing omega-3 fatty acids.||Aim for 13.5 ounces of fish a week, or 3 servings, each about the size of your fist.||2.8 years younger.|
|Soybeans||Soybeans contain heart- and artery-healthy protein, fiber, and fats.||1 cup of soybeans a day.||0.4 years younger.|
|Tomato juice and spaghetti sauce||Tomatoes contain folate, lycopene, and other nutrients to keep arteries young.||8 ounces a day of juice or 2 tablespoons of spaghetti sauce a day.||At least 1 year younger.|
|Olive oil, nut oils, fish oils, flaxseed, avocados||All of these foods contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.||25% of daily calories should be healthy fats.||3.4 years younger.|
|Real chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)||Real chocolate increases dopamine release and provides flavonoids, which keep arteries young.||1 ounce a day (to replace milk chocolate).||1.2 years younger.|