Keep your memory and mind sharp at every age with these brain-boosting strategies.
Feeling a little spacey lately? Forgetfulness usually means you need sleep, exercise or vitamins—all of which give your brain the energy it requires to stay focused. You might not be able to run up the stairs in your 80s, but with these tips, you probably won’t forget why you went up there!
The deepest stage of sleep (Stage 4, which usually occurs about four hours after you go to bed) boosts brainpower most, say
researchers at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That’s when your
brain consolidates memory and transfers learned information from the hippocampus to the neocortex, where long-term memories
Think about setting a regular bedtime that allows for seven or eight hours of sleep per night. Since you can’t predict when you’ll fall into Stage 4 sleep, it’s best to get a good night’s rest overall.
Your brain is more receptive to new information if it receives it in batches, say neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
in New York. Called interval learning, studying this way allows long-term memories to form.
Think about spacing out your study sessions when you are trying to learn something new. Do the activity or read for as long as you like, but take at least a 40-minute break before diving back in.
Antioxidants (in produce) protect the brain against cell and tissue damage. DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid in seafood, is associated
with as much as a 39 percent Alzheimer’s risk reduction.
Think about eating five to eight daily servings of produce plus three servings of fish per week, especially wild-caught salmon and canned chunk-light tuna.
Researchers at North Carolina State University found that adults ages 60 and older who were exposed to negative stereotypes
of aging did worse on memory tests than those who weren’t. If you choose to think positively, your brain will learn to receive
positive information in its prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for compassion and intuition.
Think about replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. The more you do it, the more it will happen automatically in the future.
People who exercise regularly have bigger brains than those who don’t, and they pick up new skills quicker, studies suggest.
Physical activity boosts a chemical that facilitates blood flow and brain growth.
Think about scheduling 30 minutes of aerobic exercise six days a week. Studies show that when you stop exercising, brain functioning declines.
Research shows that chronic tension and irritation lead to overproduction of cortisol—which can damage the hippocampus, an
area key to memory. One study revealed that middle-aged women who were highly stressed were more likely to develop dementia
later in life.
Think about figuring out what aggravates you on a daily basis and taking steps to ease the stress. That could include avoiding difficult situations or scheduling more “me” time.
For your brain, watching TV is like staring at a brick wall. The lack of stimulation decreases blood flow, an essential component
of brain health. Two hours of TV a week is plenty, experts say, but any amount you cut back helps.
Think about structuring your evening around an activity other than television. Read, play with your pets, practice a musical instrument or enjoy game night with your family.
Research shows that people older than 70 who read books, play word games, learn new skills on their computer or engage in
crafts might decrease their memory-decline risk by up to 50 percent. Mental activities might stimulate nerve cells that affect
memory and thinking.
If you’re right-handed, use your left hand to brush your teeth or control the computer mouse. Changing your habits can strengthen
the pathways that deliver information to the brain and sharpen your thinking. The same goes for learning a new skill, whether
it’s a language, a musical instrument or a sport.
To guard against mental decline, strengthen your mind with brain exercises. Try something as simple as getting dressed with your eyes closed or shopping at the farmers market instead of the grocery store you normally frequent. The goal is to use all your senses and to break your routine so you keep your brain alert.