Eight ways to keep your brain sharp
Most of us find that our brain works a little slower and our memory is a little less reliable as we get older, but there are things you can do to help keep your mind sharp...
Developing and maintaining a network of friends isn't just good for your emotional wellbeing – it's also good for your brain. There is evidence to suggest that people who stay socially active in mid to late life are less likely to develop dementia.
It's all too easy to become isolated as you get older, but there are lots of ways to meet new people. Visit your local community centre, consider volunteering, take an evening class or join a club or social group. Meeting face to face is best, but if you find it hard to get out of the house, at least one study has shown that joining Facebook can help you stay connected and may give you a cognitive boost.
2. Challenge your brain
When was the last time you gave your little grey brain cells a workout? Just like the body, there's truth to the "use it or lose it" adage when it comes to maintaining cognitive function. Reading, playing games, solving crossword puzzles and doing Sudoku will all help to keep your mind active. If you don't have anyone to play with at home, challenge a friend to an online game of Scrabble.
Challenge yourself by learning something new – whether that's a language, a musical instrument, or tai chi. Research suggests that learning something completely new helps to increase the number of connections in the brain – so challenge yourself once in a while.
3. Watch your stress levels
Stress doesn't just harm our hearts – it can also have a negative effect on the brain. Research shows that chronic stress can impact the brain long-term, influencing functions that deal with decision-making and memory, and increasing our risk of dementia and depression.
Make time to relax by doing yoga, tai chi or listening to a meditation CD and ensure that you get regular exercise.
4. A strong body means a strong mind
Staying fit and active may be the single most important thing you can do to keep your brain in good working order. Studies show that regular exercise improves blood flow, boosts cognitive performance and even improves recall.
Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every other day, whether that's swimming, walking or pedalling an exercise bike. Aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping and your lungs working helps to maintain the cardiovascular system, which also helps the brain. Experts suggest combining moderate cardiovascular activity with strength training for the optimum results.
5. Eat a Mediterranean diet
Numerous studies have found a link between diet and cognitive functioning. To keep your brain in good shape, follow a Mediterranean diet and focus on eating plenty of protein (from fish and beans), good fats (from nuts and olive oil), complex carbohydrates from whole grains and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Studies show that food rich in B vitamins, such as chicken, potatoes and bananas, can help improve your memory and keep your brain healthy. Essential fatty acids, such as Omega 3s, are critical to brain function and have been shown to help protect against dementia and depression. Aim to eat oily fish 2-3 times a week or consider taking a supplement.
6. Make sure you get enough iron
Brain cells require a good supply of oxygen in order to work their best – and if you don't have enough iron in your diet, it can affect your blood's ability to carry oxygen to the brain.
If you suffer from fatigue despite seeming to get enough sleep and find it hard to concentrate, see your doctor and ask to be tested for anaemia. Eating lean red meat, egg yolks, pulses such as red kidney beans and lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, wholegrain cereals and wholemeal bread can help to boost your iron intake - or consider taking an iron supplement.
7. Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night
You know yourself that it can be hard to concentrate when you haven't had a good night's sleep. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Why? Researchers from Harvard say that getting too much – or too little – sleep could increase your risk of developing dementia. Scientists found that women who reported sleeping six or fewer hours a night had a 36% increased risk of cognitive decline, while those who slept for more than eight hours had an increased risk of 35%.
8. Drink coffee or tea
There's mounting evidence to suggest that a caffeine habit might be good for your brain. According to one study, people who drink three to five cups of coffee a day are less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. Other studies suggest that drinking tea, particularly green tea, may help to protect against cognitive decline thanks to the high antioxidant content.