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Seven Activities to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Contrary to popular belief, your mind does not have to slow down just because you get older. Instead, you can keep your brain functioning at its highest level just by keeping it in shape, just as your muscles improve when you work them out.

physical exercise

Experts agree that physical exercise is one of the best things you can do to keep your mind strong.

"Working out" your brain is only slightly different from working out the rest of your body. If anything, it's easier because such a wide array of activities is beneficial.

If you are interested in keeping your brain sharp, no matter what your age, here are the key activities to indulge in.

1. Exercise

Physical activity does not just benefit your waist size. It also produces beneficial changes in your brain, including:

  • Encouraging the growth of new cells by increasing oxygen flow to your brain

  • Boosting growth factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps new nerve cells to survive

  • Increasing neurotransmitters in your brain that play a role in cognition

"I would absolutely recommend people exercise for the mental benefits -- especially the elderly," says Henriette van Praag, a staff scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in a Los Angeles Times article. "People don't care about whether they're a size 4 or a size 6 as they get older. But they do care where their car keys are and whether they'll have the ability to play their card games and enjoy life."

challenge your mind

Getting together with friends for a game of cards will give your brain a healthy challenge.

2. Challenge Your Mind

As the saying goes, "Use it or lose it." It's thought that some of the forgetfulness and loss of mental acuity that comes along with aging is caused, at least in part, by non-use.

In fact, another study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that seniors who participated in mentally challenging activities about once a week for a 20-year period reduced the risk of dementia by 7 percent. Those who engaged in these activities more often reduced their risk even more -- by 63 percent!

To keep your mind on its toes, try out a new hobby that will get you thinking, such as:

  • Learning how to play a musical instrument

  • Playing Sudoku, crossword puzzles, cards or board games

  • Learning a foreign language

  • Reading

  • Creative writing

  • Woodworking

3. Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

What you eat has a direct impact on your brain function, and if you've ever indulged in a mid-afternoon junk-food binge, then felt like your head was stuck in a fog for the rest of the day, you understand what we're saying. The best foods for your brain include:

  • Antioxidants from fruits and veggies. One study by researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that beagles fed a high-antioxidant died had improved cognitive skills. And, rats fed strawberries and blueberries have been shown to enjoy improved coordination, concentration and short-term memory.

  • Fish. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been found to be very important for brain function (just be careful to eat this in moderation due to potential contamination with mercury).

Meanwhile, you definitely want to avoid trans fats for your brain health. These dangerous fats have been linked to a host of mental problems, including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.

When Your Brain Needs to Relax:
Quiet Your Mind With Guided Meditation

Pure Relaxation CDThe Pure Relaxation CD is an essential tool for anyone looking for an excellent way to relax and quiet a racing mind.

The guided meditations in Pure Relaxation will calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body, giving you permission to live in a more relaxed way.

Learn More About the
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4. Listen to Some Music

A study published in the journal Heart & Lung found that people who listened to music while they exercised performed more than twice as well on a verbal fluency test than people who listened to no music. The test was designed to challenge the part of the brain that deals with planning and abstract thought.

5. Have a Drink?

While too much alcohol can cause you serious health problems, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one-half to one drink a day may be beneficial for your brain.

In fact, in the study of over 12,000 elderly women, those who drank light to moderate amounts of alcohol daily had a 20 percent lower risk of having problems with their mental abilities later in life than women who did not drink at all.

6. Sleep Enough

During sleep, your mental energy is restored. Don't get enough of it and important skills like planning, problem solving, learning, concentration, memory and alertness will all become more difficult. Further, the less sleep you get, the worse off you'll be.

"If you have been awake for 21 hours straight, your abilities are equivalent to someone who is legally drunk," says Sean Drummond from the University of California, San Diego in New Scientist.

However, just a few nights of not enough sleep can produce similar effects.

7. Meditate

Meditation has been found to produce both short-term and permanent changes in the brain. In fact, researchers at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that meditation increases brain size and may help slow some aspects of cognitive aging.

Recommended Reading

Some Very Fun Exercises for Your Brain ... With an Amazing Little Test at the End

Is Fish Really 'Brain Food?'


The New England Journal of Medicine January 20, 2005 Volume 352:245-253

New Scientist May 28, 2005

Harvard University Gazette

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