It's true: Use it or lose it. Stretching your brain keeps your mind sharp. People who are more active in mentally challenging activities are much less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. Try these:
Read a book.
Go to a lecture.
Listen to the radio.
Play a game.
Visit a museum.
Learn a second language.
Mix Things Up
Remember trying to talk backwards as a child? Researchers at Duke University created exercises they call "neurobics," which challenge your brain to think in new ways. Since your five senses are key to learning, use them to exercise your mind. If you're right-handed, try using your left hand. Drive to work by another route. Close your eyes and see if you can recognize food by taste.
Work Out to Stay Sharp
Exercise, especially the kind that gets your heart rate up like walking or swimming, has mental pluses, too. Although experts aren't sure why, physical activity might increase the blood supply to the brain and improve links between brain cells. Staying active can help memory, imagination, and even your ability to plan tasks.
A Healthy Diet Builds Brainpower
Do your brain a favor and choose foods that are good for your heart and waistline. Being obese in middle age makes you twice as likely to have dementia later on. High cholesterol and high blood pressure raise your chances, too. Try these easy tips:
Bake or grill foods instead of frying.
Cook with "good" fats like oils from nuts, seeds, and olives instead of cream, butter, and fats from meat.
Eat colorful fruits and veggies.
Watch What You Drink
You know that too many drinks can affect your judgment, speech, movement, and memory. But did you know alcohol can have long-term effects? Too much drinking over a long period of time can shrink the frontal lobes of your brain. And that damage can last forever, even if you quit drinking. A healthy amount is considered one drink a day for women and two for men.
Video Games Train Your Brain
Grab that joystick. Several studies found that playing video games stimulates the parts of the brain that control movement, memory, planning, and fine motor skills. Some experts say gaming only makes you better at gaming. The verdict may still be out, but why let kids have all the fun?
Music Helps Your Brain
Thank your mom for making you practice the piano. Playing an instrument early in life pays off in clearer thinking when you're older. Musical experience boosts mental functions that have nothing to do with music, such as memory and ability to plan. It also helps with greater hand coordination. Plus, it's fun -- and it's never too late to start.
Make Friends for Your Mind
Be a people person! Talking with others actually sharpens your brain, whether at work, at home, or out in your community. Studies show social activities improve your mind. So volunteer, sign up for a class, or call a friend!
Too much stress can hurt your gray matter, which contains cells that store and process information. Here are some ways to chill:
Take deep breaths.
Find something that makes you laugh.
Listen to music.
Try yoga or meditation.
Find someone to talk to.
Sleep and the Brain
Get enough sleep before and after you learn something new. You need sleep on both ends. When you start out tired, it's hard to focus on things. And when you sleep afterward, your brain files away the new info so you can recall it later. A long night's rest is best for memory and your mood. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Everybody spaces out now and then. As you get older, you may not remember things as easily as you used to. That's a normal part of aging. Some helpful hints:
Write things down.
Use the calendar and reminder functions in your phone, even for simple things (Call Dad!).
Focus on one task at a time.
Learn new things one step at a time.
The Name Game
Have trouble recalling names? Always repeat a person's name while you're talking to them -- at least in your head, if not out loud. Or invent a funny image or rhyme that you link with their name. For example, think of Bob bobbing out in the ocean.
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Alzheimer’s Association: "Adopt a Brain-Health Diet."
News release, Annals of Neurology.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: "Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress."
CDC: "FAQ: What Does Moderate Drinking Mean?" "How Much Sleep Do I Need?"
News release, Duke Medicine.
Fortier, C. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, December 2011.
Hanna-Pladdy, B. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, July 18, 2012.
Harvard Medical School, Division of Sleep Medicine: "Sleep, Learning, and Memory."
Harvard Men’s Health Watch, September 2012.
Kramer, A. Journal of Applied Physiology, October 2006.
News release, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
National Institute on Aging: "Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?"
NIH Senior Health: "Alcohol Use and Older Adults."
Office on Women’s Health, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Stay Connected."
News release, Science Daily.
News release, UC Berkeley News Center.
News release, University of California, San Francisco.
News release, University of Oregon.
Zunzunegui, M. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, March 2003.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.