You can’t remember where you put your glasses, the remote, or your keys — and you’ve already forgotten the name of the person you met two minutes ago. But don’t freak out. “The good news is that you can do something about it,” says neurologist Majid. T. Fotuhi, M.D., author of Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance.
Here are 8 brain-busting strategies to help you stay sharp for the rest of your life:
1. MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
This may be the best motivation ever to get off the couch. So how much exercise do you really need? Here’s what’s optimal: 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity like jogging and 15 minutes of strength training, such as lifting hand weights or doing squats and pushups, four times a week.
2. CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Stress and frustration stimulate chemical changes that can shrink your hippocampus and lead to memory problems. To reverse some of the damage, try to chill out and put things in perspective. Say you’re stuck in traffic. If you always expect traffic to flow smoothly with no delays, the consequence is that you get stressed and angry. But you can cut your anxiety by telling yourself that traffic jams happen and you can’t control them. And when traffic is better than you expect, you’ll feel great.
3. FEED YOUR BRAIN
Getting a certain amount of DHA — a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, fish oil, and algae — can increase the size of your hippocampus in about six months, research shows. But it’s almost impossible to get enough from your diet. Buy supplements that come from algae rather than fish, as they’re less likely to have impurities such as mercury.
4. EAT FLAVONOIDS
Foods containing flavonoids, such as deeply colored berries and grapes, beets, dark chocolate, and cocoa, can also boost your brain. A recent Harvard study showed increased blood flow and better memory performance after participants drank two cups of hot cocoa a day for a month. What’s not to love about that?
5. REDUCE THESE THREE NUMBERS
Focus on lowering your blood sugar, blood pressure, and belly fat. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that if you have elevated blood sugar (even if you don’t have diabetes), you’re at increased risk for Alzheimer’s. Many women have high blood sugar and don’t know it, so ask your doctor to test you (fasting blood glucose over 100 is considered pre-diabetes; over 125 is diabetes). Even borderline high blood pressure can put you at risk for stroke and make your brain sluggish. And having a belly size bigger than half your height increases your risk of stroke and sleep apnea, which can lead to brain shrinkage. So if you’re 5-foot-4, your waist should measure less than 32 inches.
6. PROTECT YOUR HEAD
Do not get on a bike or go skiing or skating without wearing a helmet — at any age. Even a minor fall can cause a microscopic tear in your brain, and the scar tissue may cause memory problems. And make sure your kids and grandkids wear head protection while playing concussion-prone sports.
7. SEE FRIENDS IN 3-D
Get out for lunch or go for a walk with your pals instead of spending time on Facebook or Instagram. Interacting with people in the real world actually requires a good deal of mental maneuvering, like when you’re keeping track of several conversations at a party. Social interaction also brings you pleasure, which releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals, and reduces excess cortisol, a chemical that’s a major brain shrinker. In addition, a recent study showed that people who say they find meaning in their lives and pursue their passions, such as religion, time with family, and creative expression, have healthier brains as they age. So whenever you can, get out into the world and connect with others in ways that make you feel happy and fulfilled, say by volunteering, playing tennis or golf, or joining a book group.
8. TAKE ON NEW CHALLENGES
Keep learning and memorizing new things throughout your life. Crossword puzzles don’t qualify because you’re tapping into information you already have in your head. To challenge your brain, set a goal to memorize three names a day. “People say, ‘I’m terrible with names,’ but they don’t even try.” When you practice memorizing names by associating wacky images with the person, you get better at it. Study a new language, especially if you do it intensively for a few months. Take violin or piano lessons. Memorize poems or songs you love. Encourage yourself to do more problem-solving. If you’re working on your monthly budget, put away the calculator, grab a pencil, and do the math yourself.
*Article reprinted (and edited) from Ladies Home Journal, April 2014, pgs. 68-70.