Turn back the clock on brain aging with these study-proven strategies that improve memory, sharpen focus, and banish fog.
1. Keep track of all the details by doodling.
Whether you’re keen on mastering a trendy cake-decorating technique or figuring out a complicated new knitting pattern, German researchers report that quickly sketching out each step of the process will make it easier to commit the technique to memory. That’s because drawing helps the brain better organize new information and link it to existing memories, improving your comprehension by 86 percent.
Or sip wine. Go ahead and pour yourself a glass: French researchers found that enjoying 6 oz. of wine a day revs the production of a hormone that repairs worn-out neurons and helps form new connections in the brain, protecting against brain shrinkage and lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 55 percent.
2. Sharpen memory by gabbing with the girls.
Another reason to pencil in time with a friend: Science proves it protects your brain! Make plans to hit the mall together, meet up for a cup of coffee, or even just catch up over the phone. Cornell University researchers discovered that chatting with a pal or loved one can halve your risk of age-related memory loss and boost your chances of staying sharp after age 60 by 50 percent! As little as two minutes a day of socializing is all it takes to encourage the body to generate the new brain cells that help keep your mind functioning at its peak.
Or play Candy Crush. Regularly taking mini breaks to play a game on your cellphone (like shape-matching games or I-Spy-inspired search games) improves your spatial working memory, say researchers reporting in the journal PLOS ONE, making it easier to do everyday tasks like remember directions.
3. Speed learning with a catnap.
Things not clicking like they used to? The learning hub of the brain shrinks as you age, making it more challenging to retain information. The time-rewinding fix: a relaxing snooze! A German study in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory found that taking a 45-minute nap after learning something new helps you remember five times more than if you’d kept busy with a different task. That’s because sleep activates the memory center of the brain, solidifying new details.
Or turn on the tunes. Before tackling a new task, cue up a playlist. Research in the journal Scientific Reports found that listening to music for 20 minutes revs activity in the memory center of the brain.
4. Banish brain fog by switching hands.
The simple way to clear brain fog in 60 seconds: Use your non-dominant hand! Research at the University of Waterloo in Canada found that doing a familiar task — like watering a plant — with your less-preferred hand challenges the brain, spurring the release of a focusing-enhancing compound that revs alertness by 45 percent.
Or watch Friends. Re-watching a favorite TV show boosts your ability to focus, say University of Buffalo scientists.
5. Improve decision-making by chewing gum.
Hung up on making a simple decision? Blame it on the slowdown in circulation to your brain that comes with age. The fix: Chew a piece of cinnamon gum! Chewing significantly boosts blood circulation to the brain, St. Lawrence University scientists say, while the spicy scent prompts the release of brain waves that sharpen thinking in two minutes.
Or have a little treat. A study in the journal Cognition & Emotion found that a happiness-boosting treat — like a piece of chocolate — releases dopamine, a brain chemical that works to enhance decision-making skills.
6. Cut your dementia risk by 60 percent with a good book.
Spending an hour a day (either all at once or a few minutes here and there) with a hobby that engages your mind — such as reading or doing puzzles — cuts your dementia risk by 60 percent, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. Mentally stimulating activities prod the brain to release an anti-aging compound (nerve growth factor) that spurs the growth of healthy new brain cells.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.