5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Have you ever heard this phrase: Use it or lose it? When it comes to matters of the mind, that saying can be your ticket to staying sharp mentally.

Researchers used to think you were born with a limited number of neurons, which are cells that serve as information messengers in your brain.

Scientists now realize that you generate neurons into adulthood and these new cells impact your learning and memory, says neuropsychologist Paula Ogrocki, PhD.

“A lot of research has been done into the neurons in your brain,” she says. “We’ve learned that if you stay active mentally and physically, new ones can be built."

Building a Cognitive Reserve

“The latest theories show that if you end up with a brain disease like Alzheimer’s, you want to have a cognitive reserve,” Dr. Ogrocki says. “Your brain will be more resistant to the disease process and, even if you have Alzheimer’s, you can stay sharper longer.”

While age-related brain decline happens, certain behaviors will help your brain power, Dr. Ogrocki says. Her top five ways to keep your mind sharp:

  1. Choose active leisure -- “You want to do something that is an active activity versus a passive one,” she says. For example, crossword puzzles, lectures and touring an art museum are active alternatives, while lying on the couch and watching TV are passive choices. “Anything that is new, novel and different will help keep your mind sharp,” Dr. Ogrocki says.
  2. Stay social -- When you’re participating in brain-stimulating activities, be sure you’re connecting with people – especially new ones. “By nature, we’re social beings,” she says. “We do better when interacting with people.”
  3. Game your brain --You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a brain program to boost your memory function.

    “The research doesn’t support that the expensive computer brain programs you have to pay for are any better than the mind games you find for free on the Internet,” she says. She suggests searching for “mind games” and creating your own mix to challenge yourself or find games, puzzles or challenging reading in magazines and books if you don't use a computer.

  4. Get physical --“A lot of studies show that physical exercise is good for your brain,” she says. “It doesn't have to be anything crazy. Walking is good.” Other options include yoga and dancing, which challenge you by creating routines to follow, plus offer a social outlet.
  5. Mind your diet --“Your brain is intimately linked to your body,” she says. “All the major illnesses that face older adults, such as diabetes and chronic illnesses, all those things affect your brain, too. We know that our diet has a role in these illnesses. Sometimes older adults will ask me, ‘Why do I have to eat broccoli?’ I tell them, ‘Your brain is not cut off from the rest of your body. You want to take care of it,’” she says.

The types of diets Dr. Ogrocki considers good for your brain include:

  • The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein.
  • The DASH diet, a low sodium plan, which includes fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy and whole grains.

 

Paula Ogrocki, PhD is a neuropsychologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Ogrocki or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

 

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