As a neurologist who has treated memory problems for more than 30 years at the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, the question I hear every day is, "How can I keep my mind active and sharp?" Here are 10 ways that I recommend:
Engage in Mental Exercises.
The brain is an organ that needs exercise. It is a biological computer and, like a computer, needs to process new information regularly. You can exercise your brain each day with simple activities like reading new materials, solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles, playing stimulating games like chess or Scrabble, attending a lecture or taking an educational course.
Get Physical Exercise.
Along with your brain, the rest of your body needs exercise too. Exercise enhances brain function. When your heart rate increases, so does the flow of blood to your brain. Exercise also improves your mood and helps alleviate depression. It even helps produce new brain cells. And it doesn't take much exercise. Start by walking 30 minutes daily. Take the stairs, not the elevator. If you like golfing, skip the golf cart and walk. Go out dancing or ride a bicycle. Just do an exercise you like at least three times per week.
Avoid Smoking, Recreational Drugs and Excess Alcohol.
Smoking cigarettes not only decreases your lifespan, but also markedly increases your risk of stroke. Multiple small strokes are a leading cause of dementia. Street drugs are often laced with impurities that can cause brain damage. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause irreversible damage, which may seem imperceptible at first, but will eventually catch up with you.
Eat Healthy Foods.
Your brain has a critical need for oxygen, glucose and other nutrients, which it can't store, so it is entirely dependent on what is in the blood. If your arteries are clogged with cholesterol from a poor diet, they can't supply these essentials effectively. To optimize your diet, supplement it daily with foods rich in omega-3 such as fish, walnuts or fish oil capsules. Try to eat three meals per day but consume just enough calories to maintain your weight. Studies have also shown that eating a balanced breakfast improves brain functionality and enhances intellect.
Get a Good Night's Sleep.
I'm frequently asked, "How much sleep is enough?" My answer is always, "As much as you need to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed." That could be six, eight or 10 hours. When you are sleep deprived, you cannot function well mentally. Proper sleep also helps your memory. If you find your sleep frequently disrupted and your partner complains that you snore, see your doctor. You may have sleep apnea, a serious medical condition.
Get a Yearly Medical Exam.
Most people get a tune-up for their cars every year -- but it's surprising how many people don't get an annual physical for themselves. A thorough exam will help prevent the onset of what could become larger health problems. Be sure that your exam includes routine blood tests that check your thyroid levels and, periodically, your vitamin B12 and vitamin D levels. Some dementia patients have B12 deficiency. When imbalances are discovered early, supplements can be used to help improve memory and overall energy levels. The same goes for thyroid and other blood issues -- all are critical to healthy brain function.
Make a To-Do List.
Creating a "to-do" list first thing in the morning is a great way to organize your day at a time when your mind is clear and less prone to disruptions. The act of making a list helps your thinking process and keeps your mind sharp and focused. Plus, handling tasks one at time -- and crossing them off your list -- increases productivity, efficiency and a feeling of relief, all of which alleviate stress.
Enjoy Coffee, Tea and Chocolate in Moderation.
As a nation of caffeine-lovers it's good news that studies show that coffee in moderation -- a cup or two a day -- may delay or give some protection from Alzheimer's Disease. Although tea has less caffeine than coffee, it has more antioxidants which provide protection as well. As for chocolate, besides being a delicious treat, it contains caffeine and other chemicals that can help brain function. The darker the chocolate, the better.
Sex and the Brain.
Lots of people have sex "on the brain" but, technically speaking, sex is a form of exercise, which in and of itself, is good for you and your brain. Consensual, loving sex can result in relaxation for many, which is also healthy. There is even evidence that sex reduces stress hormones (that can impair brain function) and increases brain size.
Get Out and Socialize.
Being in the company of people, preferably those you like and enjoy, is a boost to your brain. Socializing, making new friends, and engaging in stimulating conversation -- even one that results in friendly debate -- gets your thinking processes flowing and keeps your mind active and fresh. The positive camaraderie of others is energizing and a stress reliever, both good for overall and brain health.