The old saying “Use It or Lose It” is particularly important when it comes to the health of your brain.
You don’t have to be elderly or diagnosed with dementia to take steps to keep your memory as strong as possible. In fact, the best time to start beefing up your brain cells is right now — whether you’re 21 or 71.
During my journey with sudden memory loss and the later diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, I’ve learned a lot about how to keep my brain as active and healthy as possible. And one of the things I learned is that the brain needs care just like the rest of the body.
Here are some DO’s and DON’T suggestions for how you can help your mental acuity. A number of these tips came from the AARP, but many others came from my own experience and suggestions from experts. (Remember, I am just a lay person. If you think you are having memory problems, please see a doctor.)
- Exercise, exercise, exercise!!!!!!! This is one of the most important things you can do to strengthen your brain, as well as your body. When I first met with a cognitive therapist, she immediately told me to join a water aerobics class. You not only get physical benefits, the water routines require a great deal of concentration. But other forms of exercise are just as valuable – from walking and jogging to swimming, bicycle riding, basketball, golf and more. Exercise causes more blood to flow through your brain, and a study showed that people with Alzheimer’s who were less fit had four times more signs of brain shrinkage than those who exercised regularly.
- Keep your mind engaged. Do jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, crossword puzzles, computer games, needlepoint, etc. Even better, listen to music or watch TV when you’re doing these activities – it helps both the right and left sides of the brain.
- Use your nondominant hand to do daily tasks, like brushing your teeth or clicking the the computer mouse. This simple change promotes the growth of neurons in the brain, which can sharpen memory and thinking.
- Stay socially active with friends, family and community groups.
- Take steps to manage stress.
- Eat a balanced diet, focusing on brain-healthy foods that are rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. As examples, the antioxidants in green tea help your body detoxify harmful chemicals. Omega 3 fatty acids can help slow down or prevent degenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes and others. In addition, take steps to reduce your cholesterol if it is high, and keep your blood glucose and blood pressure under control.
- Make sure you pay close attention every time you learn something. Write it down, or repeat it to yourself several times. Focusing is important.
- Last but not least…doodle! Researchers found that test subjects who doodled while listening to a recorded phone message had 29% better recall of the message’s details than those who didn’t doodle.
- Drink to excess, smoke or use illegal drugs.
- Don’t be overly concerned about normal memory slips – like forgetting names or where you put the keys. (But do go to the doctor if you notice more significant changes in your physical or mental health.)
- Become isolated in your home. Go to lunch with friends, join a book club, walk around the mall, visit museums, walk trails at nearby parks, or sign up for free seminars. Your local paper should have lists of places to go and things to do. Never think you’re too old or tired to start something new!
Along with all these tips, just remember that you’re in control of your body, and there are many things to help you keep your memory as strong as possible. And that way, you – just like me – can focus on ‘Living Life to its Fullest.’