One of the best ways to stay sharp is to exercise that muscle between your ears, research indicates. And discussions with some of the top scientists studying the brain reveal that you can work your noggin in many different ways, every day.
Here are 50 of them:
1. Snack on almonds and blueberries instead of a candy bar. As they lower blood sugar, healthy snacks can improve cognition. In this case, the omega-3s in the almonds and the antioxidants in the blueberries can keep your brain functioning correctly.
2. Ballroom dance like the stars. Dancing is a brain-power activity. How so? Learning new moves activates brain motor centers that form new neural connections. Dancing also calms the brain’s stress response.
3. Love the crunch of croutons on your salad? Try walnuts instead. Omega-3s in walnuts have been found to improve mood and calm inflammation that may lead to brain-cell death. They also replace lost melatonin, which is necessary for healthy brain functioning.
4. Take your dog—or yourself—for a walk. Walking for just 20 minutes a day can lower blood sugar. That helps stoke blood flow to the brain, so you think more clearly.
5. Add Chinese club moss to your daily vitamin regimen. Taking less than 100 micrograms of the herb daily may protect your brain’s neurotransmitters and keep synapses firing correctly, tests suggest. But this herb is powerful, so check with your doctor for drug interactions.
6. Volunteer to answer questions at the library, arboretum, museum, or hospital. Playing tour guide forces you to learn new facts and think on your feet, helping to form new neural pathways in your brain. What’s more, interacting with others can ease stress that depletes memory.
7. Grab a video-game joystick. New video games, such as the Wii and Ninetendo DS, offer brain teasers that make you learn the computer’s interface as you master the brain games. That’s a double boost to the formation of new neural connections and to response time and memory.
8. Leave your comfort zone. Getting good at sudoku? Time to move on. Brain teasers don’t form new neural connections once you’ve mastered them. So try something that’s opposite your natural skills: If you like numbers, learn to draw. If you love language, try logic puzzles.
9. Get support for stressors. You may love your ailing family member, but the chronic stress of facing the situation alone can shrink your brain’s memory center. Interacting with others activates many parts of the brain—and learning new ways of coping forms new neural connections.
10. When you look around, really look. Stare straight ahead, and now—without moving your eyes—see if you can make out what’s at the periphery. Do this regularly and you’ll stimulate the neural and spatial centers of the brain, which can atrophy as you age.