Train your brain through exercise
One of the single most important things people can do to stave off declining brain function is to exercise. According to health experts at the Stanford Center for Longevity, regular aerobic exercise has been shown to improve attention, reasoning, and components of memory.
Aim for a minimum of four to five moderately intense, 20- to-30 minute, aerobic exercise sessions per week. What's "moderately intense?" Brisk walking counts. You should be breathing hard enough so that carrying on a conversation takes a little effort. If you're gasping for breath, back off the pace. If walking isn't your thing, try:
- A quick game of hoops
- Playing tag with your kids
- A bike ride with the family
- A swim at the gym
- A session on cardio equipment, such as an elliptical machine or stair stepper
Remember: always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.
Feed your brain properly
The same foods that contribute to clogged arteries around your heart (cardiovascular disease), also contribute to clogged arteries around your brain (known as cerebrovascular disease). The nutrients found in healthy foods can protect the brain against everyday wear and tear too. Put your money where your mouth is:
- Fat focus: Skip processed foods such as chips, crackers, and donuts. Find healthy fat in nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish. If you don't eat fatty fish, such as salmon a couple of times per week, ask your doctor if a fish oil supplement is right for you.
- Go for color: Bright red, purple, orange, yellow, and green vegetables and fruit are best. Enjoy fresh or frozen blueberries on your oatmeal. Try carrots and hummus dip for a snack. Include broccoli and red peppers in your next stir-fry.
- Calorie count: Try to eat only the calories you need to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and overweight increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Slimming down can add years of clear thinking to your life!
Be supplement savvy
As people age, they may not absorb vitamins and minerals as well as they should.
- On B vitamins, in particular, people often come up short. Folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies can contribute to poor brain function.
- The herb ginkgo may have benefit for some people. A recent study cast doubt on ginkgo's benefits, but many herbal medicine experts point out that numerous previous studies do show a brain boost from ginkgo.
- Finally, consider acetyl-L-carnitine, a nutrient that can help the body process energy from food into energy for cells in the body. About 25% of our daily calorie intake goes toward keeping the brain humming. Efficient use of energy is an important part of keeping the noggin healthy.
If you are considering these or any other supplements, talk to your doctor about which ones might be right for you. Dietary supplements can interfere with medications, so stay safe by clearing supplement use with your healthcare provider.
Engage your brain
Finally, staying engaged in life is another way to keep the brain sharp. Enjoy card games or crossword puzzles. Read a good book. Take up a new hobby. And make sure you have regular visits with family and friends: strong social connections are an important part of healthy aging.