25 Tricks for a Healthy Brain
The brain is a muscle that should always be exercised! Use these tips to keep your brain in top shape.
1. Use It or Lose It
The golden rule of brainpower: The brain functions like a muscle in that the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Watching lots of unstimulating TV, having a routine job, cooking, cleaning and shopping the same way over and over – all contribute to a loss of brainpower. Learning new things, varying your routines, having provocative discussions, going on exciting trips and playing a musical instrument all cause your brain to make new connections and function better.
2. Take a B-Complex Vitamin
As you age, your body becomes less efficient at absorbing certain B vitamins from food. Yet the Bs are critical for maintaining a sharp memory. A study of 260 healthy men and women over the age of 60 found that those with low blood levels of vitamins C or B12 scored the worst on memory and cognitive functioning tests. Those with low levels of the B vitamins riboflavin or folic acid scored worst on a test of abstract thinking. Another study found that giving women a B-complex supplement improved their performance on memory tests. B vitamins also help to lower levels of artery-clogging homocysteine, linked to memory loss. Two other supplements to take along with your Bs are vitamins E and C. Studies find that taking the two together can protect against Alzheimer’s. But taking the supplements separately (for example, one in the morning and one at night) had no effect.
3. Put Whole-Grain Bread Into Your Diet
If you’ve been following a high-protein, low-carb diet and simultaneously finding your memory going, it’s probably not a coincidence. More than any other organ, the brain relies on glucose for fuel. And glucose comes from carbs. One study of 22 older people from the University of Toronto found that those whose diets contained the greatest percentage of calories from carbohydrates performed best on memory and task tests. Just make sure you’re getting your carbs from fruits, vegetables and whole grains, not ice cream, candy and cake.
4. Get A Hobby
Take up fishing, needlework, ballroom dancing, or piano – the idea here is to continue stretching your mind around new things and new experiences, which studies find can help to stave off dementia and improve memory.
5. Eat Oil-Rich Fish at Least Once a Week
Fresh tuna, salmon, trout and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, important for maintaining memory. A delicious fresh tuna salad, for example, is a real brain treat. (Canned tuna contains some omega-3s).
6. Go Vegetarian at Least Once a Week
Low in saturated fat and high in fibre, a veggie meal will boost your efforts to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. That’s important in terms of the memory, because high cholesterol levels eventually damage blood vessels, affecting long-term memory and speeding the progression of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
7. Add Blueberries To Your Cereal
Try doing this several days a week. Not only do studies find that eating cereal in the morning can help your performance on certain cognitive tests, but a study in rats who had blueberries every day for two months found that the fruit boosted levels of enzymes which help brain cells communicate with each other. Although the study was done in rats, the lead researcher says the results were so compelling that he now eats a serving or two of blueberries every day – just in case.
8. Skip Dessert Tonight
And tomorrow night as well. It might help you to lose some weight – a good thing when it comes to memory. Swedish researchers found that older women diagnosed with memory problems tended to be an average of 5 to 8 kg (11 to 17 lb) overweight compared to women who had fewer memory lapses. Other studies find that overweight women and men have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
10. Get A Good Night Sleep After Learing Something New
If you’re learning something new at work, make sure you get a good night’s sleep after your training. A Harvard study found that a good night’s sleep improves your ability to remember something you learned during the day.
11. Try Chicken with Sage and Lemons Tonight
Roast it in the oven at 350°F/180°C until it’s done (about 2 hours). A couple of small studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of sage may boost memory for several hours after eating the herb. Plus, lemons are chock-full of antioxidants important for maintaining healthy cell function. Other sage options: tea made with a teaspoon of the dried herb; or use it in salad dressing and rice dishes or add it to flavour pork or fish. Try growing some in your garden or in a small container in the kitchen.
12. Snack on Grapes
Researchers find that people with a high intake of trans fats – found in baked goods like cookies – are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those who eat the least. Grapes, on the other hand, have phytochemicals and antioxidants that help lead to improved blood flow and overall health.
13. Have a Glass of Wine With Dinner
A study of 746 men and women found that those who drank one to six alcoholic beverages (beer, wine or spirits) a week were 54 per cent less likely than abstainers to develop dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia) over six years. Stop at one, though; the same study found that 14 or more drinks a week increased the risk of dementia by 22 per cent.
14. Have Some Chicken Curry
An Italian study found that this common spice blend appears to enhance an enzyme that protects the brain against oxidative conditions which could lead to memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
Need a recipe? We’ve got one for Thai green curry here.
15. Try Tofu
Soy products such as tofu have isoflavones that also appear to help preserve memory and hinder protein changes which contribute to Alzheimer’s.
We love this recipe for grilled marinated tofu.
16. Read For An Hour A Day
Pick a topic about which you know very little and read five books on that topic. Then move on to the next topic. Your brain will soak up the knowledge like a parched rose bush, sending out blooms in the form of neurons to help to maintain a healthy memory.
17. Memorize A Poem A Day
It may remind you of your schooldays, but it’s also a great exercise for those memory muscles, aka the brain. Not into poetry? How about memorizing the phone numbers of all your friends, or the addresses of all your family members?
18. Jump Out of Your Comfort Zone
It might be taking a different route to work, writing or using the mouse with your non-dominant hand, or approaching a total stranger and striking up a conversation (in a safe place, mind you). This kind of challenge is the perfect “weightlifting” exercise for brain cells.
19. Listen to Music While Exercising
A study of 33 adults undergoing cardiac rehabilitation found that those who listened to music while they worked out improved their scores on a verbal fluency test – a test that measures overall brainpower.
20. Go Exploring
Check out a new town, or even a new part of your own city. The challenge that comes from following a map, coupled with the novelty that new sights, sounds and smells bring, serves as a healthy wake-up call for your brain.
22. Do One Thing at a Time
If you’re trying to have a phone conversation while checking e-mails, the chances are that you won’t remember a word you spoke. A growing body of research finds our increasing tendency to multi-task hinders memory and concentration.
23. Pay Attention
Next time someone tells you their name, or when you put down your keys or park your car, pay attention! Often the reason we can’t remember things is that we’re on autopilot when we do them (or hear them). But if you stop for a second when someone introduces him or herself and repeat the name out loud, or stop when you get out of your car at the shopping centre and look – really look – at the spot in which you’ve parked, you’ll remember it better.