13 Things You Should Know About Keeping Your Brain Strong

Your mind matters. Here’s how to stay sharp.

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The secret to increasing brain function is growing neurons. “More neurons means a better ability to learn and to remember,” says Max Cynader of Vancouver’s Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

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One way to grow neurons? Get quality rest. During the day, while you learn, you grow neural connections in your brain. Then
at night, you replay the day’s memories while you sleep, helping neur­ons to wire and fire together.

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Take the blues seriously. A 2010 study published in Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience showed people with depression performed worse on cognitive tasks than their non-depressed counterparts. “Treat the depression and you can improve the cognitive function,” says Aaron Newman, a neuroscientist and associate professor at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

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Manage stress. When we’re agitated, our bodies flood our brains with cortisol. The hormone attaches to receptors in our neurons, which allows more calcium to pass through their membranes. Neurons overloaded with calcium fire too rapidly. That hyper firing kills neurons.

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Play. Research from the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Human Development and two other German institutions showed that regularly playing Super Mario 64 increased study participants’ brain volume in the regions that control memory and spatial thinking.

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Break a sweat. One-hour weightlifting sessions, twice a week, have been shown to slow the pro­gress of mild cognitive impairment.

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Drink your joe. Coffee contains polyphenols, antioxidant compounds that may protect the hippocampus and the cortex, areas that are important for memory. Three
to five cups a day is ideal.

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Brush up. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people with none of their own teeth performed 10 per cent worse on memory tests than those with some natural teeth. Researchers have yet to determine why.

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Monitor your hearing. A 2013 Johns Hopkins study concluded that cognitive decline progressed 30 to 40 per cent faste for people with hearing loss than for those with normal hearing. Treating impairment can improve cognitive ability.

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Don’t count on superfoods. Studies have shown that turmeric, for example, breaks up brain plaque (which has been linked to Alzheimer’s), but it’s no cure-all. “It’s not the food that’s beneficial; it’s the chemicals in it,” says Newman. It’s impossible to get a high enough concentration of those chemicals in your diet to recreate lab results.

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Avoid smoking. The cortex, the bumpy surface layer of the brain, naturally thins as we age. Smoking hastens this thinning, which is associated with cognitive decline.

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Build friendships. As little as 10 minutes of socializing a day improves cognitive performance.

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Get Zen. Meditating for half an hour a day, for eight weeks, has been shown to grow grey matter in the hippocampus, which may improve memory and learning.

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