The old expression "use it or lose it" holds true when it comes to mental acumen. Your mind doesn't have to slow down as you get older. According to Dr. Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., author of "The Natural Medicine Chest," there are many ways you can keep your brain functioning at its optimum level.
Here are some suggestions to get and keep your brain in shape:
- Exercise. Working out is not only good for your muscles, it also encourages new cell growth by increasing the oxygen flow to your brain, says the expert. It boosts neurological factors that help new nerve cells thrive.
- Challenge your mind. "The New England Journal of Medicine did a study that showed seniors who participated in mentally challenging activities once a week for a 20-year period recued their risk of dementia by 7%. Those who engaged more often lowered their risk by an incredible 63%," she said. Kamhi suggested playing board games, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, reading and watching Jeopardy!
- Eat nutritious meals and snacks. "What you eat has a direct impact on your brain function," she said. The best brain foods are those packed with omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold-water fish, as well as fruits and vegetables that contain powerful, brain-boosting antioxidants.
- Listen to music. Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers said that "if you want to exercise your brain, listen to music." They found that "there are few things that can stimulate your brain the way music does." Research has shown that listening to music can also reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.
- Say cheers! A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one alcoholic drink a day can be beneficial to brain health. In fact, the study of over 12,000 elderly women who drank light to moderate amounts of alcohol daily revealed they had a 20% lower risk of having problems with their mental abilities than women who did not drink at all.
- Dance. Another important study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that seniors who danced three to four times a week had a 75% lower risk of dementia. The greatest benefits came from ballroom dancing.
- Sleep. Kamhi explained that mental energy is restored during sleep, and too little can damage our ability to plan, solve problems or learn. "Lack of sleep can even impair your memory and concentration," she said. Since stress is the No. 1 cause of sleep-related issues, get a handle on stress by trying relaxation techniques.
- Prayer and meditation. Researchers at Yale, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that meditation increases brain size and may help slow cognitive aging.
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