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We all have those moments when we forget where we put our glasses,
blank on a friend's name or discover at the supermarket that we've left the
shopping list at home.
Such occasional lapses are common, especially once we hit our forties.
And while it may be alarming to have a "senior moment" now and then,
the good news is that we are not destined to have increased memory gaps as we age.
Research shows that by keeping your brain healthy with the right diet, and
exercising it to keep cognitive function strong, you can boost memory and
brainpower. Here are seven fun, easy things you can do to stay sharp.
People who eat fish once a week have a 60% lower risk of developing
Alzheimer's disease, according to research by Martha Clare Morris, ScD, an
epidemiologist and associate professor of internal medicine at Rush University
Medical Center in Chicago. The reason is DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid
found in large quantities in the brain and in cold water species of fish, such as
salmon, tuna and cod. Morris recently found that a weekly seafood-based meal
may slow cognitive decline by 10% per year—the equivalent of turning back
the clock three to four years. Try these healthy fish recipes to get your omega-3s.
Not a fish fan? Take a bite of these other brain-boosting foods.
Take a Daily Brain Game Break
When it comes to the brain, the one factor we often neglect is mental
stimulation. We are creatures of habit and tend to engage in the same
activities and behavior patterns. In fact, the brain "prefers"
novelty and unexpected events. When we mentally challenge ourselves on a
regular basis, we can maintain good intellectual potential as well as reduce
our risk for age-related memory loss. Challenge yourself with our brain games,
scientifically developed to give your mind a workout. From Mah-Jongg to Sudoku,
you won't know which game is your favorite until you try them all.
If you doubt the power of staying connected, consider this: Experts now
believe that socializing, like other forms of mental exercise (such as
crossword puzzles), may build cognitive reserve—a reservoir of brain
function you draw from if and when other areas of your brain begin to decline.
"When you interact with other people, it's likely that structures in the
frontal lobe that are responsible for 'executive functions'—like planning,
decision making and response control—get fired up," explains Oscar
Ybarra, PhD, associate psychology professor at the University of Michigan.
Regular socializing also keeps your brain sharp by reducing cortisol, the
destructive stress hormone.
Make Your Workouts
Aside from eating a healthy diet, one of the most important ways to
preserve your brain health is through regular exercise. "Cardiovascular
activity pumps more oxygen-rich blood to the brain, which is like giving a car
a shot of gasoline," says Thomas Crook, PhD, an expert on cognitive
development and memory disorders. With that blood comes nutrients such as
glucose, which fuels every cell in the brain. Daily workouts also have
long-term benefits. "Cardio exercise strengthens blood vessels and helps
prevent illnesses that impair cognitive function, like stroke," says
Experts know that positive emotions have a beneficial effect on your
ability to process information and are linked to better brain health over the
long term. In 2007, one study found that people who frequently experience
positive emotions were 60% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment,
while another found that older adults with lower levels of chronic stress
scored better on memory tests. If you've had a bad day, simply press
"eject" on your mental DVD player and pop in a feel-good memory
instead, says Crook. Think about a time in your life when you were utterly
happy. Rehearse the scene as though you were reliving it, complete with the
dialogue, sights, smells and feelings. "The memory itself will spark
brain changes that can help turn your mood—and your long-term health—around," Crook explains. If you're going through a longer rough patch,
take heart—new studies show that depression can actually help your mental
and emotional health in the long run. Learn the surprising benefits of sadness.
Don't Sweat What You Forget
Know what and when to forget. A daily overload of information often
makes us think our memory is declining and we have memory loss, when in fact
it's simply glutted with too much useless data. Most of the information that
comes at us every day is, frankly, not worth remembering. A fit brain will
efficiently screen out and discard worthless or meaningless data so it can
remember what's important. For example, the faster you forget your old PIN or
access code, the quicker and more accurately you will recall your new numbers.
Take a Nap—Even a Short One
Go ahead, doze off during your lunch break: Napping for as little as six minutes can improve your memory, report German researchers. Over the course of
60 minutes, three groups of volunteers stayed awake for the entire hour, got in
just six minutes of sleep or took a 30- to 45-minute nap. On a word-recall test
afterward, all of those who slept outperformed those who didn't—but
surprisingly, the six-minute nappers did just as well on the memory exam as those
who snoozed longer.