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Can you prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and age-related memory loss? Most definitely! Make the right lifestyle changes and your brain will reward you for years to come.
Mental fitness and brain health are… excuse the pun…. on everyone’s mind these days. Not only are baby boomers actively searching for ways to keep their minds sharp and their brains healthy, other generations are seeking the fountain of youth for their minds as well. You’re just as apt to see a 65 year old in the store, loading up on crossword puzzles as you are a 22 year old buying brain games. I absolutely love that more and more people are waking up to the importance of good mental health and to the urgency of staying mentally fit.
Remember when we all believed that losing your memory was a part of aging. Thank goodness we know better now!
The time to start getting really serious about strengthening brain is today. Right now. People with strong minds live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives. What’s more, they retain their memories and abilities to process information much, much longer.
The following list, in no particular order, gives you our mental fitness blog‘s 10 favorite ways to keep your mind sharp and healthy.
Get Plenty of Mental Exercise:
Like any muscle, the brain can suffer atrophy. If you keep that thought in the front of your mind, you’ll no doubt seek out ways to “work out” your brain each day. Below are a few ways to sneak in fun workouts for your mind. Please remember to do one or more of these daily.
- Crossword Puzzles. Never underestimate just how mentally stimulating a crossword puzzle is. The ones that run in newspapers are pretty challenging – and they make the cost of the newspaper EVEN more worth it.
- Jumble Puzzles. These often appear in newspapers as well, allowing you to get even more bang for your buck.
- If you don’t buy or subscribe to the newspaper (something I urge you to do for many reasons, including supporting local businesses and neighbors), you can find many puzzles online.
- Start calculating mentally rather than using pen and paper or a calculator. Whether you’re adding up bills or shopping, go as far as you can mentally before resorting to extra help.
- Grocery Store Game: Mentally keep a running tab (rounding to the nearest dollar) of the amount of money you’re spending. At the cash register, it’s fun to see how close you actually come.
- Subscribe to National Geographic Magazine. Each magazine provides amazing, exciting, and beautiful lessons. Bonus Mental Work: After reading each article, mentally “pull out” 5 facts and memorize them. Throughout the week, quiz yourself on the facts from each article.
- If you’re more of a visual learner, use the above advice with the National Geographic channel (as well as NatGeo, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel, etc.)
- This goes back to newspapers (and is another excellent reason to subscribe or buy a local newspaper daily): Stay on top of local news. Sadly, more people currently know more about celebrity news than they do world events. I recently overheard a conversation between two women in Starbucks. They were discussing the Kardashians and seemed to know more about them than most members of the infamous family does! Then one literally said, “By the way, do you have any idea who Michele Bachmann is? My daughter asked me this morning and I was like, I dunno…” They then proceeded to move their conversation back to Kim Kardashian and I was never more happy than the moment the barista called my name and handed me my Chai Tea Latte. I could escape! Staying on top of current events stimulates the mind. At the very least, know who the players are! You can’t really avoid celebrity or pop culture news and events. We’re surrounded by it, everywhere we look. But if your idea of current events is who the last pair was to leave Dancing With the Stars, you need to re-evaluate and stop, mentally, eating only junk food.
- READ, READ, READ. Read books, magazines, shampoo bottles, blog posts, brochures, etc. Your brain LOVES to read and process information. Never deny it this delight. Remember, bonus points are racked up when you read informational, educational, and “deep” content.
- Play video games. That’s right, I said it! Did you know that many experts believe that video games can help keep you mentally active, keep your reflexes, reactions, and responses sharp, and (get this) can even help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease! Now that doesn’t give you free range to play video games for hours on end each day. That would leave no time for other activities like reading, socializing, or stretching your mind in other ways.
A strong and healthy mind is a well-rounded and creative mind. Never get stuck in a rut where you think about, talk about, or participate in the same things over and over again. Growth doesn’t happen in ruts. What’s more, creativity dies a slow death in ruts.
- Write! Buy a journal or even a great notebook and simply record your thoughts and feelings each day. Bonus points: Every now and then, put your feelings in the form of a poem.
- If you have family that lives far away, write to them often. Everyone, young or old, loves to get a letter in the mail.
- Consider setting up a personal blog. You’ll learn something new (how to run your own blog) and you’ll have a wonderful place to let your creativity flow.
- Head to a local crafts store or the craft section in your favorite department store. Buy a project that interests you and let your creativity flow!
- If you have small children around, don’t just read them stories, TELL them stories. When my girls were younger, they actually preferred the stories I made up to the ones I read.
- Don’t read the same types of books or the same authors all the time. Mix things up!
- On your next trip to the library or bookstore, grab a magazine about a subject you know nothing about. If you don’t cook, grab a cooking magazine and read different recipes, tips, and cooking terms. If you aren’t familiar with birds, grab a magazine about birds and learn about the different beauties. Travel magazines are also fascinating. Expose yourself to different subjects – when you do, you take your brain on fascinating journeys.
- Take up cooking. If you already cook, learn a new style or type of cooking each month. One month you may specialize in Chinese cooking, the next month you may move on to authentic Mexican cooking or Amish recipes. Mix things up and avoid the dreaded rut. If you’re new to cooking, tune in often to the Food Network, visit food blogs, and buy popular cookbooks.
- Listen to Classical Music. It’s relaxing, beautiful, and helps clear your head from thought overload. Bonus: Learn about the composers!
- Do things differently. Take different routes to regular destinations, eat with your opposite hand, use chopsticks in Japanese restaurants, etc. When you mix things up, you perk up regions of your mind that might otherwise be lulled to sleep. Do I even have to tell you how dangerous it is when these regions doze?!?!
Your Emotional State Matters Greatly
Everything is tied together in your body – your mind, emotions, heart, health, etc. Each one affects the other greatly, so each one must be taken into consideration.
- Breath. Practice deep breathing. It allows oxygen to reach every corner of your being – and since oxygen is our lifeline, this is essential. However, it’s more than that. Deep breathing helps us remain calm and keeps us on an even keel. Throughout the day, take random “checks” on your breathing. You’ll be surprised at the number of times you’re pretty much holding your breath! Breath deeper and the rewards will pile up.
- Laugh more! Find opportunities for laughter and approach them daily. Whether it’s reruns of I Love Lucy, Sanford and Son, or Friends – find what makes you laugh and enjoy it as often as you possibly can. Laughter truly is the best medicine and it’s an excellent stress reducer.
- Find ways that work for you when it comes to managing stressful moments. When something stressful happens or a disappointment pops up, deal with it immediately. It’s when we allow these to pile up on one another that we get into trouble. Spring into action right away. Some people swear by long hot baths while others love to escape with a great book or their favorite music. Personally? It may sound strange, but I like to soak my feet in a scented, warm, bubbly bath. After they soak for 5 – 10 minutes, I use an exfoliating brush on my heels, dry them off, and top it all off with my favorite foot lotion and a soft pair of aloe vera socks. I do all of this while playing relaxing sounds with an iPod app (my favorite is rain… maybe because I’m from Kentucky and Kentucky rain is infamous!). At the end of the 10 minutes, whatever annoyed me is long gone and my feet and I feel marvelous.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself or overload your plate. Some people try to do too much and it takes a toll with their emotional, physical, and mental health. If you feel overwhelmed by life, you need to take a good look at your life and prioritize what you need to do. Never extend yourself further than you’re capable of stretching. If you do, you’ll snap.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest. Everyone needs their own personal amount of sleep each night – some people require 8 hours or more while others feel best after about 6 or 7 hours of sleep. Your body will let you know when you need more. Also, remember to rest during the day as well. Sit back, put your feet up, and let your body and mind unwind.
- Keep a positive attitude. When you feel yourself having negative thoughts, push them out of the way. Negativity never produces anything worthwhile.
- Get pets! Having at least one pet is SO rewarding in so many ways. It’s impossible to feel lonely or sad when a precious pair of eyes are lovingly looking at you. If you can’t have pets, take up squirrel and bird watching. Buy bird feeders, squirrel feeders, and bird houses and invite more pets into your life than you ever imagined!
- Unwind with gentle stretching and even yoga. Put relaxing music on and unwind from your head to your toes.
- Don’t try to take care of everyone. Never try to live other people’s lives or do other people’s jobs for them. When we take care of our self, we soon realize that it’s such a full time job, we don’t have time for anyone else. Allow others to live their lives, make their choices, and find their way. As you’re able to live your life, allow them to live their life. They aren’t the only ones who benefit – you reduce SO much stress, anxiety, and worry from your life when you just concentrate on you.
- Meditation and prayer don’t just work wonders for reducing stress, they are invaluable when it comes to staying focused.
Your Physical Health Affects Your Mental Health
Making healthy decisions rewards you with improved physical health and mental health. The heart and mind are so closely tied together, it’s actually amazing. What’s good for one is good for the other.
- Get plenty of physical activity. Whether you walk daily, practice yoga, or workout to an exercise video – be certain to get your blood pumping daily.
- Take part in your favorite sports and activities. The funner an activity is for us, the more often we’ll do it.
- Jump on the Wii Fitness craze. It’s incredibly fun and more of a workout than you’re probably already getting.
- If you’re overweight, lose the extra pounds. Your heart and mind will both thank you for your efforts.
- Move more. It’s that simple. In stores, walk the longest possible route to what you need. Go out of your way to take more steps during the day. Find even simple ways to add more steps like putting the laundry up one item at a time. Any and every way you can add more steps is vital – they all add up.
- Get fresh air. Even in winter, get outside each day. Find reasons to do so – whether it’s feeding birds, walking a dog, playing with cats, gardening, raking, shoveling, walking, or jogging.
- Be safe! Always wear seat belts and use common sense when driving or playing sports. Brain injuries should be avoided at all costs – yes, even if it means wearing a bicycle helmet. Think about it, is it worth the risk?
- Absolutely, positively avoid illegal drugs of any kind. If it isn’t legal, don’t make excuses for it. Avoid it and you’ll protect your body and mind. Again, nothing is worth your brain’s health or safety.
- Avoid alcohol. Heavy drinking is linked directly to memory loss. Personally, I plan on avoiding anything that poses a risk to my memories!
- Don’t smoke. Smoking, obviously, robs your body of precious oxygen. Oxygen is essential for a healthy brain. Essential! Furthermore, studies show that Alzheimer’s Disease is twice as likely to occur in smokers than non-smokers. Bonus: Avoid secondhand smoke for these same reasons.
Eat and Drink a Healthy Diet
You are what you eat and it’s never more true than when it comes to brain health. Eating is one of those things we do, often, without even thinking. It’s time to be more mindful about what we put into our mouths.
- Eat and drink antioxidant-rich drinks and foods. Drink tea rather than soft drinks for a simple and fast way to up your antioxidant count. Also, eat more fruits and vegetables, which are packed with antioxidants. Bonus: Green tea is PACKED with antioxidants.
- When it comes to brain health, fish is a super hero. Eat fish several times a week. However, avoid mercury-laden fish. Salmon is one of the best friends your brain could have.
- Avocados are another delicious way to improve your brain’s health. Avocados increase blood flow, causing more blood flow to the brain. Obviously this is a glorious thing!
- Two and a half servings of whole grains, daily, reduce your chance of having a stroke. Strokes are devastating for the victim’s brain, so we should do all we can to prevent them. Look for whole grain cereals, bread, and even pasta.
- Something I have in my kitchen, at all times, is Olive Oil. This healthy alternative to other oils has been shown to break up clots in capillaries. It also helps with blood flow in general. Replace other oils, and often butter, with olive oil. I use mine for frying eggs and haven’t missed butter in the least. When making “French bread” or “Italian bread,” instead of buttering the bread, simply bake it THEN serve it on a platter with a dipping bowl filled with olive oil. Grind black pepper on top of the olive oil and/or sprinkle fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, or chives) on top. I also like to slice tomatoes and mozzarella onto plates, then drizzle olive oil on top. Healthy and delicious!
- Buy organic when possible. Organic means that you’ll have fewer toxins joining you and your food at the table.
- Blueberries and Goji berries are ninjas in the battle for brain health. Eat them as often as possible.
- Drink coffee! Coffee drinkers are less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s than non-coffee drinkers. However, you have to have quite a few cups a day. Most experts say about 8 cups are the minimum. In addition to my morning cups of coffee, I also enjoy iced coffee throughout the day.
- Did you know that breakfast is considered to be the most important meal for your brain? Another reason to start your day off with a good, healthy breakfast. Oatmeal, eggs, fruit, whole grain cereal, and (of course!) coffee will give you a great start.
- Drink lots of water to keep your body and mind detoxified and oxygenated.
- Avoid as much as possible: Fast food, white sugar, overly processed food, hydrogenated vegetable oils (higher cholesterol leads to less blood flow to the brain), high fructose corn syrup (even worse for you than white sugar),
Be Social and Involved in Life Around You
Even homebodies can become more social and involved by taking simple steps. The main objective is to realize that there’s more to life than just you and the space in which you live. Studies show that being more involved and socially active benefit your brain in ways you couldn’t imagine.
- Develop and nurture e-mail relationships. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, contact them with a warm, friendly e-mail.
- Get a Twitter account and take part regularly. It’s easier to set up a Twitter account than it is to comment on most blogs! (I’m on Twitter HERE!) Twitter’s a great way to keep up with what’s happening in the world and the perfect opportunity to expose yourself to other people’s thoughts and opinions. After all, we already know our own, right?!
- Take a class that interests you at your community college.
- Go through “human” lines in stores rather than the ones where you check yourself out.
- Don’t monopolize conversations – really listen to what others are saying. People can tell when you’re really interested in them and in their words.
- Leave comments on blogs you visit.
- Take part in forums devoted to subjects that interest you. Google your subject (cats, fashion, bird watching, baseball, cooking, books, etc) + forum. Individual sport’s teams have lively and entertaining forums and cat lover’s forum are always a warm and wonderful place to visit and make friends.
Challenge Your Brain More Than You Are Today
Each day, be mindful of REALLY challenging your brain… BEYOND crossword puzzles, brain games, and reading. Yes, these things are essential, but for optimum brain health and fitness, you need to go further. You don’t have to do each of the things below, of course. They’re simply ideas to use and build upon.
- Subscribe to a Word a Day e-mail service. You’ll learn a new word each day. Bonus: Learn and remember each word. Study and be able to define each at the end of the week, then at the end of the month.
- Learn a new language, or at least enough to identify a great range of objects and carry on a casual conversation. Actually, learning a little bit of several different languages can be one of the best mental workouts of all.
- Take up a musical instrument such as piano, guitar, or even drums.
- Learn to do something you always wished you knew how to do. You’re the only one stopping you. Learn to knit, read music, paint, cook, build computers, design websites, write, groom dogs, garden, do yoga, or anything that interests you.
- Take up a fascinating hobby such as candle-making, pottery, crochet, or soap making.
- Learn photography and really hone your craft. Read every book and magazine you can get your hands on and become the best photographer you can be.
- Take a class at your local college in something such as cake decorating, computer repair, first aid, child care, etc.
- Learn how to paint.
- Buy paint by number kits.
- Learn to identify all the different birds in your region (and even beyond).
- Learn to identify all the different trees, plants, and flowers in your region and beyond.
- Learn to identify all the different insects in your region and beyond.
- Learn to play chess.
- Become the best checkers player in your family.
- Travel to different places. If you have certain places you always go, venture off in other directions. It’s only “so fun” to see the same sights over and over again. Broaden your boundaries.
- Become an expert on the Civil War (or Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, etc.)
- Get a degree online.
- Learn Feng Shui.
- Learn everything there is to know about vitamins and minerals. Become a walking encyclopedia of healthy information.
- Learn about the healing power of herbs.
- Take a subject you feel extremely weak in (for me, it’s definitely math) and hit it head on. Go to tutorial websites, buy workbooks, and really push yourself until you no longer feel weak!
- Here’s a mantra to keep in mind: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always know what you’ve always known.
A Few Extra Brain Healthy Tips
- Gardening is excellent for stress reduction PLUS learning new gardening techniques increases your knowledge. Bonus: Read every gardening book and magazine you can get your hands on. Bonus #2: Take part on gardening forums and blogs!
- Take an Omega-3 supplement. Omega-3 amino acids are one of the best brain supplements you could possibly take. They’re also incredibly healthy for your heart.
- Another supplement you should consider is B Vitamins. Vitamin B complex supplements are known to be incredible brain boosters!
- If you have a breathing disorder, be certain to do all you can to keep your airways open. The more oxygen your brain gets, the better your brain will function.
- Get plenty of Vitamin C in your diet. Vitamin C can help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. It’ll also help keep colds at arm’s length.
- Nuts are great for the brain. Walnuts, pecans, and pistachios… they’re healthy, delicious, and your brain loves them.
- Matcha is a powdered form of green tea. It’s like green tea on steroids! It is beyond excellent for mental health.
- Learn to visualize for quick stress reduction and to quickly release anxiety. Think of a place that defines peace and contentment for you. When you’re stressed, annoyed, anxious, or down, close your eyes (if possible) and visualize this place. What sounds do you hear, what can you see, are there any particular smells, how do you feel when you’re here…. If you can’t close your eyes, simply think about the setting and ask yourself the same questions. (Warning: If you’re driving or at work, please pay attention to what’s going on around you for your safety as well as the safety of others. If possible, wait until you’re elsewhere to “escape.”)
- Grape Seed Extract has been shown to prevent the onset of dementia.
- A great way to keep your memories alive is to think about them often. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ve kept journals over the years and can go back and re-live what happened. If not, consult old pictures.
- Smells often conjure up memories more than anything else. Make a habit of smelling different perfumes, foods, flowers, etc – ask yourself what the scent reminds you of and “where the scent takes you.” There’s a particular perfume (Sand and Sable) that takes me back to the first years of my marriage, when my husband was in the military. Enjoying the scent allows me to relive a lot of beautiful memories.
- It’s worth repeating, eat more fish! Researchers from Purdue University have proven that those who consume baked or broiled fish at least once weekly have more gray matter in areas of the brain that are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Brain health is associated with volume of gray matter in the brain; the more gray matter one has in the brain, the healthier one’s brain is.
- If you have an iPhone or iPod, find educational and mentally challenging apps. A few of my favorites are Scrabble, Brain Trainer (from Lumosity), Brain2 Free, Math Ninja, Scramble CE, and Word Search, sudoku2, and Crossword.
- Name Quiz (State Capitals) is a fun app – a great way to remind yourself of the state capitals.
- Visit eHow often and venture off in different directions each time. The articles read fast and you’ll learn a lot of different cool things.
- When working puzzles or solving problems, don’t worry about coming up with the correct answer and don’t sweat it when you don’t get something “right.” The brain is benefited by the challenge, itself. When we ponder over a problem or spend time THINKING, we challenge our brain. THIS is where the growth occurs – a correct answer is simply icing on the cake.
- Your brain does not want to be in a rut. There’s no challenge or growth for it there. Remember to take it in different directions, show it different things, and expose it to different challenges and thoughts. Throw different subjects into the mix, it positively loves it when you catch it by surprise!
- You HAVE to check out Marbles the Brain Store. The website, the design, the information, the products, the blog… there’s nothing about this site I don’t love and highly, highly recommend.
- Lumosity is a wonderful, inexpensive, and highly effective way to improve Your Memory. Click here for a Free Trial.