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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Four Tips For Keeping Your Mind Sharp

The most capable computer can’t touch the human brain when it comes to speed, sophistication and capabilities. You spend time babying your desktop or laptop machine—installing software upgrades, defragmenting the drive, and rooting out viruses. But what have you done for your brain lately?

Everyone’s mental skills decline with age. Cognitive abilities such as being able to quickly compare figures and even verbal skills take a dive as much as 15 years before death, according to a 2008 study published by the American Academy of Neurology.

You’re not off the hook if you’re only 30-something. Although it’s more common in older people, difficulty in recalling well-known details—the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon—can start as early as the fourth decade.

Between age 30 and 90, the brain loses from 15 percent to 25 percent of its tissue, researchers say, and that causes a decline in memory, the ability to learn, and other cognitive processes.

Factors besides aging can also wreak havoc on your mind. One of the worst dangers is smoking. But, despite age and environmental assaults, there’s a lot you can do to maintain your brain.

1. Move The Body, Boost The Brain
You know the benefits physical activity has for your heart, lungs and waistline. Now scientists know it’s one of the best things you can do for your mind.

Study after study confirms that regular exercise benefits brain function and helps prevent or offset age-related losses.

Programs that combine both cardio and strength training yield more significant results on brain function than one or the other by itself. Sessions of more than 30 minutes of exercise at a time generate the best results.

2. Eat Colorful Foods
Mom was right when she nagged you to eat your vegetables.

Generally speaking, the more intensely colored a plant, the more protective substances it contains. Some of the best choices include:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Orange, yellow and red vegetables
  • Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Deeply colored fruits and berries
Brain researchers at UCLA and elsewhere also note that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids—such as salmon and other oily fish, walnuts, flax seeds and certain vegetables—can improve learning and memory.

3. Try Something New
Lifelong learning helps protect cognitive skills.

When you learn something new—whether it’s speaking a second language or playing a musical instrument—your brain creates new connections between neurons (nerve cells) adjacent to each other and also between distant neurons. It’s like new software being written in your head.

4. Take It Easy
Getting adequate rest is one of the best ways to be good to your brain.

If you have a tough problem that requires a creative solution, sleep on it. That advice is backed up by Harvard Medical School researchers, who say a good night’s sleep doubled subjects’ odds of coming up with the answers to tough mathematics problems. During sleep your brain does a great job of synthesizing discrete bits of information to discover solutions.

Learn More
Find out how to keep your mind sharp with the free online article “Train Your Brain.” It’s available from the NASE at health.NASE.org.

The article covers:
  • Maintaining your brain as you age
  • Physical activities that keep your brain healthy
  • Mental activities to improve your memory
  • Foods to feed your brain
  • And more

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