Prevention & Recovery
22 ways to keep your mind sharp
Photo by Bozhin Karaivanov on Unsplash
Prevention & Recovery
22 ways to keep your mind sharp
From the mid-20s, brain function starts to decline, although you may not notice the effects until decades later. When synapses – the connections between the ends of nerve cells – aren't switched on regularly, the brain finds it harder to store and retrieve information. However bad your memory is now, mental aerobics, good nutrition and moderate physical activity can elevate mental acuity and memory skills.
1. Cook with sage
Sage is traditionally associated with improving memory. Research has shown that people who take sage oil in capsule form before memory tests perform better than those who take a placebo. The purple variety is best – use it to flavour roasts and sauces or make a cup of surprisingly drinkable tea.
2. Take ginkgo
The herb ginkgo biloba has earned its reputation as a brain tonic because it has a beneficial effect on the peripheral blood circulation, improving blood supply to the brain. (It helps with piles and varicose veins for the same reason.) Gingko is prescribed to dementia patients in France and Germany. Take as an herbal extract or tincture as prescribed by your herbalist or following instructions on the pack. Avoid if taking other medication.
3. Switch hands
Use your “wrong” hand to manipulate the mouse, brush teeth and hair and open doors. This expands the circuits in the part of the brain that processes that hand.
4. Find everyday mental challenges
Get into the habit of attempting a crossword or Sudoku most days. One study found that people who complete a crossword four times a week seemed to have 47 per cent lowered risk of dementia.
5. Rearrange familiar objects
Move objects you habitually reach for without thinking in the morning: alarm clock, toothbrush, cutlery, breakfast cereal. This forces your brain to shift into gear early on and may make mornings more wakeful.
6. Become a lifelong student
Continuing study through each new decade keeps the brain performing in a youthful way. Book an adult education course (to maintain interest make it a subject you feel passionate about), join a book group or local history society, a choir with a challenging and changing repertoire or try something practical such as car maintenance. The social aspect is important: socializing with others keeps the memory sharp and brain agile.
7. Learn a language
Enrol in a language school or invest in a course to follow in the car or on the train. Learning languages stimulates the frontal lobes, the part of the brain that most often fades over the years. Book a holiday in a country that speaks the language and start buying local newspapers two weeks before you go. With a dictionary, pick through the weather report, arts and restaurant reviews.
8. Build up to daily meditation
Find 10 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly. Researchers found that daily meditation may slow age-related brain deterioration by altering the physical structure of the brain. People who meditated for 40 minutes a day had a denser cerebral cortex than people who did not. In other studies, practitioners of Transcendental Meditation demonstrated cognitive, perceptual and physical abilities equivalent to people up to 10 years their junior.
9. Three steps to basic meditating
• Set an alarm to ring in five minutes. Sit with your spine upright, feet flat on the floor, palms resting on thighs. Relax your shoulders and jaw and switch off from everyday concerns. Close your eyes.
• Watch your breath moving in and out. Let this focus steer you away from trains of thought. If it helps, breathe in to a count of three or four. Exhale to the same count. When distractions arise, focus on your counting or awareness of your flow of breath in and out.
• Return to regular breathing as the alarm rings and slowly open your eyes. Once you feel easy with the technique, increase meditation time in increments of five minutes.
10. Enjoy family and friends
Make time most days to enjoy the company of friends and family. In a study of older people at the University of California, those with most emotional support from a strong social network were more likely to retain memory, abstract thinking and language skills -- even if those relationships were testing!
11. Use stimulating aromas
Perfume various times of day with different aromas to establish associations that trigger new neural pathways. Scent the car with two drops of essential oil of basil. Follow your morning shower with distinctly scented body oil.
12. Holiday senses
Choose a novel scented soap for weekends away. This will stimulate your memory when you use it again as it reminds you of the holiday.
13. Eat greens
Consume foods containing plant antioxidants, such as spinach and blueberries. An American study suggests this reverses mental decline as we age. Plants also rich in folate have more pluses: researchers found older men who ate more folate-rich leafy greens and citrus fruit had significantly less age-related decline in memory and brain function over three years than those whose diets were low in folate.
14. Dine on fish
Eating fish at least once a week can slow the rate of cognitive decline in older people by up to 13 per cent per year reports one study. Other research suggests omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish are vital for the functioning of brain-cell receptors. Eat different varieties -- mackerel, sardines and organically farmed trout -- two or three times a week.
15. Include iron
Anemia may cloud the memory with age (iron helps transport oxygen to the brain). Make sure you eat red meat, poultry, fish and eggs, and if vegetarian, plenty of pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains, dark leafy greens, apricots and dark chocolate. For maximum absorption, accompany with a source of vitamin C, such as freshly squeezed orange juice, and the B vitamins found in yeast extract.
16. Zinc for thinking
Zinc helps us think (find it in meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains and onions). Absorption is blocked by a large intake of iron.
17. Care about choline
In a study of adults over 50, a five-week supplement of choline halved memory lapse. This mineral aids the absorption and use of good fats, vital for cell membranes, and helps the body use a neurotransmitter that transmits signals across nerve endings. Add meat, nuts and eggs into your diet daily.
18. Try stimulating teas
Incorporate new herbal teas into your day. Lemon balm seems to help the brain store and retrieve information; green and black teas are associated with preventing memory loss with age. Peppermint tea stimulates the brain, promoting concentration and alertness.
19. Unplug the phone
The constant ping of emails and interruption of phone calls can cause IQ to drop by 10 points, found a study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard, leading to loss of concentration and problem-solving skills. Unplug the phone and resist the temptation to check e-mails for two-hour runs when you need to achieve results. Get up and walk across the office to talk to people instead, which also counts towards your daily activity quotient.
20. Play games
Games which force you to think ahead, plan alternative strategies and pre-guess others' moves are very valuable. Games that advance spatial awareness (useful for reading maps) include chess and draughts.
21. Problem-solving walks
Get outdoors for a walk to raise circulation to the brain when you have a problem. Switch off from the problem at hand and turn your focus to your surroundings with your nose, ears and sense of touch. Walk backward and sideways to forge new circuits in the brain. After 15 minutes, start your return journey. Now ponder potential solutions.
22. Mall strolling
Research with older adults shows that brisk walking in indoor malls is a valuable addition to the 30 minutes a day exercise rule. See if a mall near you runs a walking scheme for year-round sociable and safe activity.
Excerpted from 1001 Ways to Stay Young Naturally, by Susannah Marriott. Excerpted with permission from Dorling Kindersley Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.