You don't need expensive gadgets or computer games to help keep your brain healthy and ticking over. Try these simple and easy to follow tips to today to boost your brain power!
Feeling forgetful? Don’t worry. According to research carried out by charity Love to Learn, frequent memory lapses are common with 37% of Brits over 50 years old say they often can’t recall the names of friends.
‘Many people find their memory becomes slower as they age because the hippocampus, [the part of the brain] which is responsible for memory, shrinks as part of the ageing process,’ says consultant neuroradiologist Dr Emer MacSweeney from Re:Cognition Health. ‘But the brain is a muscle and, like any muscle, regular exercise can keep it performing.’
How much forgetfulness is normal?
Can’t remember your PIN? ‘Forgetting a number you’ve known for years is really common,’ says Dr MacSweeney. It may just be down to how busy you are. ‘Stress can influence memory processes,’ adds Dr Bond. ‘But repeatedly asking the same questions, getting lost in a familiar environment and issues with speech are some of the early symptoms of dementia,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘Worried? Seek prompt medical advice – an early diagnosis can dramatically help someone with dementia.’
Why the menopause can make it worse
Mild memory problems can also be worse at this age due to the fluctuation of the hormone oestrogen, which helps repair neurons in the brain.
‘It’s one of the lesser known symptoms of menopause,’ says chemist and natural health expert Dr Tim Bond (teaadvisorypanel.com). ‘It’s called ‘brain fog’ – where you lose concentration, and everything seems to be moving faster than you.’ Thankfully, it will eventually pass.
Try our top tips for boosting your brain power today
If you're worried you're slowing down, there are lots of small changes you can make to keep you thinking fit. From ideas as simple as enjoying a crossword at the weekend or eating more brain-boosting superfoods, all of these are achievable and easy to slot into your daily (busy!) life.
But first, have you seen this simple trick on how to test your brain power? You can do it right now!
To find out more about Alzheimer's, you can visit the Alzheimer's society website, where you can find out more about the symptoms and diagnosis of the disease.
Test your brain
According to scientists at the University of Tokyo, you can find out how healthy your brain is simply by balancing on one leg!
In their latest study, the researchers asked 1300 participants with an average age of around 67 to stand on one foot with their eyes open for as long as they could. People who found it hard to balance for more than 20 seconds were found to have the worst cognitive test scores, and medical prevalences that gave them the highest likelihood of experiencing a stroke - both indicators of lesser brain health.
(Psst... Anyone else already up on one leg and testing themselves?)
A recent study showed that people who do crosswords are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer's compared to people who just watch TV because they are engaging their brain and having to think about the answers and work out the solutions logically, rather than absorbing information passively, like you would do if you were watching the television. You'll find crosswords in most magazines and newspapers.
Learn a language
People who can speak two or more languages are said to be more imaginative, flexible and get distracted less. Although it may be easier to pick up languages when you're younger, it's never to late to learn.
Learning a language is one of the best ways to reverse brain ageing and increase brain power. ‘Speaking a second language requires a specific type of brain training for the individual to learn the language, as well as alternate between the two,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘It may delay the onset of dementia by around four and a half years.’
Change your ways
There's nothing worse then a routine to give you brain drain, so why not try mixing things up a little to boost your brain power? Your mind needs variety to stay healthy and even small changes will help keep your brain active.
Mental exercise can boost brain power. ‘Brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, reciting the alphabet backwards, memorising a shopping list and adding numbers in your head are easy daily brain-training techniques,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘Your brain needs to keep learning to optimise performance.’
Why not try some of these small changes to boost brain power:
- Take a different route when you're going to the shops or taking the kids to school
- Brush your teeth with the other hand
- Try out new recipes for dinner
Take up dancing and stay active
Research by Cambridge University found women who walk for 30 minutes, five times a week reduce their risk of memory problems and Alzheimer’s.
‘Exercising is one of the best things you can do,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘Dancing also has cognitive benefits as remembering new steps activates many neural pathways in the brain, helping to keep it active.’
The nation's favourite drink can also help slow the arrival of Alzheimer's in people who are susceptible to the disease. Drinking a cup of tea per day has been shown to stop the chemicals which destroys part of the brain, causing the disease.
Green tea is even better because it stops certain proteins forming in the brain, which have been linked to Alzheimer's. Both also contain antioxidants, which help fight cancer.
Cut back on booze
Not only will alcohol give you a disrupted night’s rest, it can accelerate memory loss. ‘People who regularly drink heavily or binge drink are more likely to develop dementia,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘Alcohol causes brain shrinkage.’
Cutting stress levels is easier said then done, we know, but being able to relax is as beneficial to your mood as it is to your brain.
When you're stressed or in danger your body releases hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline makes your heart and reactions faster and the cortisol helps regulate your blood sugar.
This is great if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to run away from something, but if you're producing these hormones every day, then they can damage the brain, especially the part in charge of your short-term memory.
- Take 10 minutes a day to try this simple breathing exercise to help you relax: Lie on your back or sit in a comfy chair in a quiet place and slowly relax your body.
- Begin by breathing in slowly through your nose, filling the lower part of your chest, the middle and all the way to the top.
- Do this slowly over eight to 10 seconds.
- Hold your breath for two seconds before relaxing and letting the air out.
- Wait another few seconds before repeating this.
By concentrating on your breathing you're not thinking about the washing up or the bills or anything else that may be worrying you.
Eat more brain food
Good news, eating more can actually help improve your brain! We're not encouraging you to stuff you face with chocolate every five minutes, but eating small meals frequently can help regulate the amount of blood sugar. Low blood sugar makes you feel tired and irritable and sluggish.
A new study at the University of Eastern Finland has found that choline (found in eggs, milk and beef) is linked to a reduced risk of dementia by almost 30%. ‘Choline is a vitamin-like substance crucial for brain health,’ says nutritionist Cassandra Barns.
Omega-3 is a fatty acid found in oily fish, like mackerel, salmon and sardines. It helps reduce the risk of heart-disease and now scientists say it can help your mind too. About 30% of the brain's cells are made up of Omega-3, but a diet of processed food can destroy them and stop the cells from being as efficient as they should be. Eating foods rich in Omega-3 helps top up the brain.
Vegan? Eat mushrooms, baked beans, quinoa, broccoli and peanuts so you don’t miss out.
Turn off the box
As much as everyone loves a good TV show, it could be draining your brain power. According to US researchers, those who watch seven hours of TV a day have twice the memory problems of those who watch less. Pick up a book instead. ‘Reading every day can keep the brain young,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘With every page, the brain is working to retain more information, providing mental exercise.’
Make more friends
A study has shown that having lots of friends can reduce the risk of developing dementia in the elderly. The research showed that people who don't have many friends or relatives to talk to were one and a half times more likely to suffer because they don't get enough emotional or intellectual stimulation.
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Faye M Smith is a Senior Health And Lifestyle writer working across Woman & Home, Feel Good You, Woman’s Own and Woman magazine. Having gained an NCTJ postgraduate diploma, Faye has worked for 15 years in journalism, covering a range of lifestyle topics for companies including the BBC, Press Association, News UK and Hachette.
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