Get a boost of vitamin B
The B vitamins play a vital role in keeping the brain healthy, delivering oxygen to our little grey cells and helping the body produce acetylcholine, a key brain chemical needed for memory. Niacin or B3 (found in foods including fish, poultry and pork) is good for brain enhancement, while B6 (found in foods including sunflower seeds, nuts, fish and poultry) is essential for the manufacture of neurotransmitters, especially mood-enhancing serotonin.
The most essential vitamin for healthy brain functioning is B12. Even a slight deficiency of the vitamin can cause anaemia, fatigue, depression, and impaired cognitive functioning, while a long term deficiency can lead to permanent damage to the brain. Present in foods including shellfish, such as oysters, mussels and clams, beef (especially beef liver), eggs, milk, cheese, oily fish and poultry, it can also be found in yeast extracts, such as Marmite, and B12-enriched soya milk.
The omega-3s found in oily fish (such as salmon, herring and mackerel) play an important role in healthy brain functioning. One study found that people in their seventies and eighties who regularly ate oily fish performed better in memory and concentration tests than those who did not. Not only that, but regularly eating oily fish could help to help ward off depression and improve your mood.
Iron and zinc
Studies show that a reduced iron intake can have a detrimental effect on IQ levels and cognitive function, as can a deficiency of zinc (found in foods including oysters, red meat and peanuts). The best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a healthy and varied diet. If you're concerned, it's worth taking a daily vitamin and mineral supplement.
Train your brain
Think of your brain as being like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better it will perform. Scientists in Germany have found that 'cognitive training' can actually result in physical changes in the brain. A group of people with an average age of 69, who spent six months completing memory training exercises were shown to have stronger nerve connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. In fact, people who undergo 'brain training' can improve their cognitive functions by as much as 10 per cent according to scientists at the University of Southern California.
Simply doing a puzzle or crossword, learning something new, taking up a new hobby or widening your social circle is enough to help form new pathways in the brain.
Exercise – and then relax
Everyone knows it's important to stay active, especially in older age, but it's not just your heart that will benefit. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day, three times a week, is enough to bring about significant improvements in brain functioning, according to researchers at the Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina.
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps to improve recall, as well as our ability to organise and perform well at different intellectual tasks. Exercising also helps to combat stress, which is known to interfere with memory. You don't have to join a gym – a brisk walk three times a week will provide the same benefits.