What was I doing? Oh yes, that’s right–I was writing this blog entry about how to keep your brain sharp. The brain is the organ that makes us who we are, its powers usually begin to decline somewhere in our mid-twenties.
Everybody forgets where they put their keys from time to time. And a lot of us use our landline phones mostly to ring our cell phones so we can find them. Memory lapses become more common as we age. They are disturbing, but not serious, unless of course you forget which city you parked your car in.
You don’t have to wander absentmindedly into old age. There are things you can do to keep your mind as sharp as possible. In life it’s easy to find our comfort zones and to stop evolving and learning and doing. Our brains thrive on new experiences. We need to challenge our minds and bodies to keep changing for the better and achieve our highest potential. Here are some things you can do to keep your grey matter firing on all cylinders.
Exercise your body
Time after time studies reinforce the common wisdom: Exercise is good for you. No one is certain why it’s good for your brain, although we do know that higher intensity exercise can spike your levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This protein promotes growth and health of neurons. It’s like fertilizer for your brain cells. Exercise also keeps your blood vessels healthy and helps oxygenate the brain
Learn a new skill
Who says you can’t “teach an old dog new tricks”? Not neuroscience. Learn to play an instrument, or learn a new language. There’s no time like the present to pick up a guitar or start learning Lithuanian. Our neural networks are not set in concrete. When you learn something you create new networks in the brain with stronger and faster connections between the cells in those networks.
A Finnish study found that eating oily fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon 3-times a week can reduce brain lesions that can trigger stroke and Alzheimer’s. They suspect omega-3 fatty acids in the fish play a role. The Finns also found the protective effects are drastically reduced if the fish has been fried. So enjoy your healthy seafood steamed, grilled or baked.
Coffee tea or?
The research is in its infancy but there are some encouraging results that a compound in green tea, EGCG, can protect the brain from amyloid beta-peptoids that form toxic balls and latch onto nerve cells causing them to malfunction.
The same goes for red wine. It contains powerful antioxidants including resveratrol. To partake of the benefits of red wine you need to remember to imbibe in moderation.
Coffee can help too. It may protect against memory impairment and combat the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Before you enjoy your coffee or tea, let it cool off a bit–overly hot liquids can damage your esophagus.
Chatting and laughing and just hanging out with family and friends is both fun and good for your cognitive health. That’s the word according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Researchers found that older adults who socialize regularly are more likely to retain their cognitive abilities later in life. If you have problems getting out, invite some friends over to your house. Just figure out a way to be challenged by those around you.
A little gamesmanship
Challenge your brain with Sudoku and crossword puzzles, scrabble, chess and other intellectually engaging games. Check out websites like www.lumosity.com, which offer brain training games.
Rev up your brain with a good book
Comedian Groucho Marx once said said: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
Yes, reading is good for you. A 1996 study using Magnetic Resonance Imaging showed that when we read and imagine the descriptions on the page, the various areas of the brain that are used to process these experiences in real life are activated, creating new neural pathways.
If you didn’t catch on already, those of us that are able to remain active and challenged each day do better than those that simply go with the flow. Continue to view your life as an opportunity that brings you to new experiences every moment. An active, invigorating life keeps the cross-links in our brains developing and fresh. A continual reboot each day; if you will. As those of us that have no choice say: ”Change is good.”
The Good Doctor
Be Safe. Stay healthy. Be good to yourself.