“Our brain really is the boss of your body, controlling all of your functions, movements, and emotions, so it’s important to keep it healthy and working at its best,” says neurologist Emer MacSweeney, MB. “Recent research has shown that you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent just by making small changes to your lifestyle.”
What you eat, how much you exercise, and how you use your brain can all make a difference to how well your brain ages while helping you stay happy and independent for years to come. Keep your gray matter in great shape by adding these quick and healthy habits into your day.
1. Eat fruit or veggies at every meal.
Topping up your diet with foods rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta carotene, zinc, and vitamin E could improve your long-term memory by 39 percent, according to French researchers.
“The fresher your diet the healthier you (and your brain) will be,” says Dr. MacSweeney. “Try to pack your plate full of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables at each meal.”
2. Get your heart pumping.
“Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do to help protect yourself against developing dementia,” says MacSweeney. The aim is to send blood and oxygen whizzing around your body to your brain so it can get all the nutrients it needs.
But you don’t need to work out for hours to get the benefits. Just 10 minutes of activity is enough to give your brain a brief upgrade and help to improve your mental performance, say Canadian researchers. If 10 minutes in one go seems too much at first, break it down into smaller chunks. Walk up and down the stairs, go for a walk around the garden, or dance in your living room — just remember that you should be working hard enough to get your heart pumping and you should be a little out of breath, too.
3. Flex your memory muscle
“Your brain, just like any other part of your body, needs to be looked after and exercised regularly,” says MacSweeney. “Playing brain games such as Sudoku [or] doing crosswords or jigsaw puzzles challenge[s] your brain and help[s] to improve your memory.” Set yourself a mental challenge every day such as memorizing some of your shopping list, a list of calendar dates, a puzzle or two, or learning a few words of another language.
4. Oil the cogs.
Your brain is 60 percent fat, and fatty acids are an important part of every cell. You get these fatty acids from your diet and they can be found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines.
“That’s why it’s so important to eat two portions of oily fish every week,” says MacSweeney. They protect your brain from injury and help reduce inflammation.
5. Stay social.
Connecting with friends and family both lowers your stress levels and stimulates your mind. Studies show that 15 minutes of good conversation is better for your cognitive health than watching a TV show.
6. Sleep well.
Sleep preserves your memory in the long term by helping your brain clear away toxins, plaques, and proteins that build up throughout the day. It also helps us remember new things and improves our levels of conversation.
When to Get Help
Keep a check on your memory and see your doctor if you start to notice any of the following symptoms — they might be signs that your gray matter needs some extra care.
- Forgetting names and important dates is not uncommon, but not being able to recall these when given a cue is much more of a concern.
- Unexpected and uncharacteristic anger and changes in mood.
- Confusion, such as losing track of time or problems with processing information.
- Losing your sense of direction, getting lost or disorientated in a familiar environment.
- Misplacing items such as putting keys in the freezer or milk in the dishwasher and not being able to retrace your steps to find them again.
Lifestyle choices are the key to keeping your gray matter in tip-top condition. That means eating the foods that will help improve your memory, exercising regularly to get plenty of oxygen and nutrients to your brain, and challenging yourself with games and new projects. It’s important to keep up social contacts too as that also counts as a brain booster.
This post was written by Yours editors. For more, check out our sister site, Yours.