improvements in their own cognitive
function after six months, a 2009 Johns
Hopkins study showed.
Several of the activities that help you
stay sharp are also good for your heart,
your immune system, and your body’s
other machinery. In fact, a recently published study of 2,500 people ages 70 to
79 found that 30 percent of the group
saw no decline in their mental performance or improved on cognitive tests
over the course of eight years. And that
fortunate 30 percent were more likely
than the others to have some or all of
these healthy traits:
; exercised at least once a week
; had at least a high-school education
; did not smoke
; worked or volunteered
; lived with at least one other person.
Note that most of the time, these behaviors are under our own control.
Everyone can maximize his or her
brain health. Living an active life—
resisting the siren call of the couch and
the remote control—is your best bet for
staying sharp. Puzzles like the ones on
these pages are one way to keep those
synapses firing properly. And here are
ten more brain-boosting activities:
1 Walk and talk Find a walking partner,
study a topic, and discuss it on your
walks. You’ll get mental stimulation,
physical exercise, and social connection—the key brain strengtheners.
2 Vary your routine Try a different grocer. Join a new club. Novelty stimulates new neural connections.
3 Get smart Be a lifelong learner, and
don’t dabble. If you decide to study a
language, sign up for as many classes
as you can fit in your week.
4 Play Pick games with several levels
of difficulty, to master one by one. For
quicker thinking, try to beat the clock.
5 De-stress Meditation, yoga, a walk in
the woods: focus your mind and relax.
This may build clearer memories.
6 Sleep Your brain is active when you
are asleep—it is consolidating memories from your day. Skip the late show
and give your brain time to work.
7 Imagine Include creativity in your
day. Paint, write a diary or novel, visit
new websites, or build your own.
8 Party Socialize and make new friends.
Don’t be a loner—it can lull your brain
into slowdown mode.
9 Eat right A diet rich in fruits and veg-gies, whole grains, and fish will help
keep oxygen flowing to the brain.
10 Watch your numbers Work with your
doctor to keep blood pressure, weight,
blood sugar, and cholesterol in check.
Most important, shun gimmicks. No
product can build extra brainpower
instantly or effortlessly. But with challenging new habits, you can make your
mind steadily sharper and stronger—
now and for the rest of your life. ;
P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., is chief of
biological psychiatry at Duke University
Medical Center and coauthor of The
Alzheimer’s Action Plan. A writer on
that book, Maryland freelancer Tina
Adler, contributed to this article.
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