Everyone wants to live independently for as long as possible as they age. This means not just taking care of your body, but keeping your mind sharp as well. Normal brain aging can result in difficulty remembering names and numbers, having trouble learning something new, and finding that you can no longer multitask the way you used to. While it doesn't always point to Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, it makes sense that it's something about which people worry. The best time to start improving your brain function is right now since these changes can even start as early as your 30s. Here are our favorite tips for sharpening your mind.
When you challenge your brain with mental exercises, it is believed to help maintain your individual brain cells and stimulate neural communication. Take classes at your local community college, solve puzzles, join book clubs, and pick up new hobbies that will challenge you to develop skills such as photography or French cooking.
There is compelling evidence that being active helps to prevent cognitive decline. One reason is that it helps clear the brain of amyloid, a protein fragment that is found in Alzheimer's. You don't have to run a marathon, but find ways to get your heart rate up for 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week. Take the stairs, dance around your living room, do jumping jacks in front of the television, and walk your dog.
Follow the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to slow and even prevent Alzheimer's disease. This plant-based diet is particularly rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources including fish, nuts, and legumes. Healthy fats like those from olive oil and fatty fish are also prominently featured in this diet. Eat eggs, dairy, and poultry moderately, and red meat only once in a while. User herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your meals. Choose whole grains over refined grain products. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation – no more than 5 ounces of wine per day for women and 10 ounces per day for men.
Get enough sleep.
Sleeping seven to eight hours a night may also prevent Alzheimer's and help keep your mind sharp. Start powering off your computer and closing your phone at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed since the blue light from digital screens interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. If you have trouble falling asleep, develop a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it. You may need to set an alarm to remind yourself when it's time to get ready for bed.
Keep your cholesterol in check.
High cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk for dementia. Cholesterol is made in the liver, and as such, also only comes from animal products (plants don't have livers). Choose more meatless meals, read food labels, and choose plant-based fats (like olive oil) over animal fats (such as lard).