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Flex Your Mental Muscle

Five tricks to help your brain get stronger

Most of us don't worry about our memory fading. But memory problems can arise early as your 20s, according to a new University of Virginia study. After evaluating more than 2,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 60 for seven years, researchers found that by the age of 27, brain speed, puzzle-solving capabilities, and abstract reasoning started to decline in most people. That doesn't mean you're doomed to not knowing your girl's name tomorrow. But it does indicate that your brain s one part of your body you need to keep fit. Here's how:

1. STAY ACTIVE
Physical fitness may increase the size of your hippocampus—the region of the brain connected to long-term recall. Anything that gets your blood flowing works, but jogging and swimming appear to provide the best benefits to the brain.

2. EAT SMART
What's good for your heart is good for your noggin, says Gary Small, M.D., author of iBrain. He advises loading your diet with antioxidant-rich foods (such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables), plus omega-3 fatty acids from fish and olive oil.

3. ORGANIZE AND VISUALIZE
Teach yourself mental cues. If you need to remember several items, try arranging them into smaller units. Take your Social Security number. You probably know it by heart because it's already arranged into groups of three, two, and four numbers.

4. DON'T OVERDO IT
Although technology can leave you scattered and mentally drained, it can also free your brain up from things that I don't need to be committed to memory, like phone numbers and birthdays (unless it's your wife's and kids' days; remember those!).

5. PLAY AND RELAX
Contrary to what your mom says, video games won't rot your brain. Some—like the puzzle-filled Brain Age 2 for Nintendo DS—may even help to strengthen and train it. Kicking back and relaxing also reduces stress levels, which can boost brainpower.

 

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