You may not realize it, but you can take steps to keep your brain fit and flexible as you age. In fact, some experts now say that through proper diet and routine mental health exercises, you even can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease long enough to avoid experiencing the symptoms.
“The sooner you start to protect your brain against Alzheimer’s, the sooner you will notice improvement — not only in recall and mental focus, but also in energy level, mood, general health, and sense of well-being,” says Dr. Gary Small, M.D., Professor at UCLA, and author of the new book “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program” (Workman Publishers).
Small offers these stay-sharp tips to help you get started:
• Eat brain food : Stock up on food filled with antioxidants like berries, avocados, and raw vegetables; omega-3 rich, anti-inflammatory food choices, like fish, whole grains, and legumes; and memory-boosting spices like turmeric and cumin. Alcohol in moderation can be beneficial too, so don’t shy away from a glass of wine or beer at dinner.
• Train your brain: You can cross-train your brain, by jumping from right-brain to left-brain workouts. “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,” offers great daily mental workouts that combine wordplay, letter scrambles, 3-D drawings, tricky equations, logic challenges, and number sequences. For more information, visit www.drgarysmall.com .
• Be flexible: Try simple tasks like writing and eating with your non-dominant hand. By engaging neural circuits in ways that are different from their usual patterns, you will provide your brain a good mental stretch.
• Make discoveries: Like any muscle you’d work out at the gym, your brain needs variety and stimulation to stay in shape. Find new challenging mental activities that you also enjoy, so that engaging your brain is never a chore. For example, explore a genre of music you haven’t before, or take up a new thought-provoking hobby.
• Get Moving: Hopefully you are already exercising for optimum physical health. If you aren’t, consider this: physical activity increases blood flow, oxygenating the brain. So turn off that mindless television program and take a brisk walk!
• Reduce your stress: Practice yoga, meditate; take a vacation or even just a bubble bath.
“Stress can temporarily impair one’s learning and recall,” says Small. “By taking away sources of stress, or reacting to stress differently, you can improve your memory.”
Alzheimer’s is already affecting 5 million people in the U.S. alone. But a memory lapse today doesn’t need to become a bigger problem tomorrow. Take charge and help sharpen your memory now.