We’ve all been there. You put your keys down and five minutes later, you have no idea where they are. Or you get that phone call from the salon or doctor and you’ve forgotten the appointment that you’ve had on the calendar for the past two months. It may feel like old age is knocking on your door, but there are things you can do to improve your short term memory and long term mental acuity.
Recent research has shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce your risk of dementia with some healthy habits such as, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, not smoking, having good social connections, limiting alcohol, and eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats. Certain health conditions can impair cognitive skills including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, hypothyroidism, and high LDL cholesterol. Below are five simple brain-building strategies you can easily incorporate into your daily life:
1. Eat Fish Once a Week – According to research at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, people who eat fish once a week have a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This is due to DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in large quantities in the brain and in cold water species of fish, like salmon, tuna, and cod. The study also found that a weekly seafood-based meal can slow cognitive decline by 10 percent each year.
2. Take Brain Breaks – It’s important to stimulate your brain. Often we are creatures of habit and tend to engage in the same activities and behavior patterns over and over. But in fact, the brain thrives on novelty and the unexpected. Challenging yourself mentally on a regular basis helps maintain intellectual potential as well as reduce the risk of age-related memory loss. You can do so with brain games like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and the brain stimulating website, Lumosity.com.
3. Socialize and Stay Connected – Experts believe that socializing, like other forms of mental exercise, may build cognitive reserve, a so-called reservoir of brain function you can draw from if and when other areas of your brain begin to decline. When you interact with other people, experts suggest you are activating structures in the frontal lobe of the brain that are responsible for executive functions like planning, decision making, and response control. Regular socializing also keeps your brain sharp by reducing cortisol, a destructive stress hormone.
4. Think Happy Thoughts – Scientists know that positive emotions have a beneficial effect on your ability to process information and are linked to better brain health over the long term. A 2007 study found that people who frequently experience positive emotions were 60% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, while another found that older adults with lower levels of chronic stress scored better on memory tests. If you’re having a bad day, think happy thoughts. Recall a time or moment in your life when you were blissfully happy. It can help. If you’re going through a longer rough patch, don’t panic—new studies show that depression can actually help your mental and emotional health in the long run.
5. Take a Cat Nap – German researchers report that napping for as little as 6 minutes can improve your memory. Over the course of 60 minutes, three groups of volunteers stayed awake for the entire hour, got in just 6 minutes of sleep, or took a 30-45-minute nap. On a word recall test afterward, all of those who slept outperformed those who didn’t—but surprisingly, the 6-minute snoozers did just as well on the memory exam as those who slept longer.