You can improve your memory, energy, productivity and general well-being throughout your entire life by developing everyday habits that are good for your brain…
Exercise also increases the supply of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps with the creation of new cells.
A recent study of people in their 70s found that those who exercised moderately or vigorously at least once a week were 30% more likely to maintain their cognitive skills than people who exercised less often.
Any type of exercise is good, but the ideal exercise for a healthy brain combines an aerobic workout with complex movements requiring quick reactions. Examples: Dancing, tennis, table tennis, racquetball and juggling.
Fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables fight damage from free radicals — unstable molecules that damage cells, contribute to aging and promote inflammation, which is a factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Berries are particularly rich in antioxidants.
Complex carbohydrates — such as cooked dried beans and whole grains. The brain uses sugar as its main energy source. Complex carbohydrates release sugar slowly. In contrast, white bread and other refined starches and sugars cause dramatic spikes and drops in blood sugar, leading to concentration problems and fatigue.
Cold-water fish. Any lean protein, including chicken and lean pork, helps build neurons. Salmon, cod and other cold-water fish have the added benefit of providing omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in maintaining nerve cell membranes. Other sources of these healthy fats are avocados, nuts and olive oil.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight — at least 15 minutes a day without sunscreen. If you spend most of the day indoors or live in a northern latitude, take a supplement with 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily.
Both also can be dehydrating — the brain is 80% water, so anything that dehydrates has the potential to cause problems in thinking. One or two cups of coffee or tea a day are harmless and enhance alertness, but heavy caffeine consumption — more than 500 milligrams (mg) to 600 mg a day, or about four to seven cups of coffee — should be avoided.
Alcohol has additional dangers — it blocks oxygen from reaching cells’ energy centers and reduces the effectiveness of neurotransmitters involved in learning and memory. Heavy drinkers — people who consume four or more alcoholic drinks a day — have a higher risk for dementia.
Some people drink wine daily because of evidence that it may be good for the heart. However, there are other ways to help the heart — such as exercise and diet — that don’t put the brain at risk. If you are accustomed to having a drink every day, consider cutting back to one or two drinks a week.
E-mail and text-messaging can interfere with concentration, encouraging a state of mind that is alert to the next distraction, rather than focused on the task at hand. One study at London University found a temporary IQ loss of 10 points in people who constantly checked for messages during the day.
Best: Process e-mail and text messages at set times of day, not as each message comes in. Take frequent breaks away from the computer.
Take precautions to protect yourself from head injury. Stabilize ladders carefully. Use nonslip mats in the bathtub and shower. Keep the floor in your house and the pathways outside it clear of debris that could cause you to trip and fall. If you bicycle or ski, be sure to wear a helmet.
Cope with stress by finding daily activities that calm you, such as exercise, meditation, prayer or yoga. During difficult times, focus on what you are grateful for and talk things out with someone who can help you keep an optimistic perspective.