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Beat Brain Drain

Written By Go Vita

FORGET THOSE MEMORY MYTHS THAT FAILING BRAIN POWER IS A SIGN OF AGEING. TRY THESE EFFECTIVE WAYS TO BOOST YOUR MENTAL MUSCLE.

Lifestyle, attitude, exercise, games and supplements that support brain health can go a long way towards preserving memory. Even better: it is never too late to start building your defences.

KEEP FIT

Mens sana in corpore sano is Latin for “a healthy mind in a healthy body”, and those ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about maintaining a sharp mental edge. Staying fit – and, in particular, boosting lung function – is essential to mental, psychological and emotional wellbeing. Exercise ensures the brain gets sufficient oxygen to operate optimally; it may also boost production of nerve growth factor, a chemical that triggers the development of new brain cells. Aerobic exercise is especially important for maintaining brain health because it helps prevent hardening of the arteries, which has benefits for the brain as well as the heart.

TRAIN YOUR BRAIN

Memory-building exercises stimulate your ability to solve problems, think laterally and break down your approach to tackling complex tasks. In particular, research has shown that older people who were given word-recall tests demonstrated a three-fold increase in the number of words they could remember after just four sessions. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, Scrabble, bridge, jigsaws, mah jong and chess all have similar beneficial effects. Any form of stimulation feeds the brain, encouraging the development of new neurotransmitters and improving your ability to acquire new information and learn new skills; it also provides a break from more repetitive daily tasks, such as housework or doing accounts.

WORK TO LIVE

Research shows that continuing to be actively involved in the work force is key to maintaining mental health as well as brain capacity. Whether you work full-time, part-time, or decide that now is the stage in life where you would like to set up your own business, the key is to find something that is fulfilling, so that you are able to fill your days with activities that provide initiative and problem-solving. Or, commit to taking up a mind-challenging activity, such as a course of study, painting, playing a musical instrument or engaging in another creative hobby.

HAVE A CHAT

Research shows that people who stay mentally alert are also more likely to interact with a variety of others in different ways throughout their day. For example, talking with friends, joining community discussion groups and forums, helping with their children’s businesses or caring for grandchildren – even just exchanging pleasantries and a smile with a person in the supermarket queue or the petrol station clerk will have the same effect.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Poor nutrition, especially deficiencies in the B-group vitamins, can compromise brain and nervous system health. Poor eating habits, particularly if combined with compromised nutrient absorption – which can be easily triggered by inactivity, gut health problems, and endocrine disorders – can also contribute to cognitive decline. So can stress, overindulgence in alcohol, inadequate sleep, dehydration, grief and depression, with the latter two conditions having been shown to have a profound effect of decreasing activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which controls cognition.

To eat for better brain health, choose foods that are rich in vitamins C and E. These two antioxidant nutrients counter the negative effects of free radicals and help to reduce the protein plaque deposits associated with mental decline. Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, capsicums and leafy greens; for vitamin E, add almonds, nuts, seeds and whole grains to your diet. Research also shows that even modest reductions in blood levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid are implicated in mental deterioration, because this elevates levels of homocysteine in the blood. Eat fortified breakfast cereals and wheatgerm, and take a supplement to ensure you are getting enough.

SAY YES TO NOOTROPICS

Nootropics are a group of cognition-enhancing supplements and other substances that have been shown to improve memory and mental alertness, as well as focus, creativity, mood, motivation and executive function, and overall energy levels. These include so-called ‘smart drugs’ as well as a number of natural ingredients. In particular, clinical trials of a proprietary dried extract of the herb sage (Salvia officinalis) have demonstrated that it can significantly improve cognitive performance, memory and attention span. Sage is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antidepressive; it also inhibits the action of amyloid-β peptide, which can negatively affect the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that is required for attention, memory, and motivation.

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