Most research on brain health can only show that certain behaviors are associated with beneficial results. In other words, it appears that people who do crossword puzzles have better memories. But scientists can't prove that doing crossword puzzles is responsible. People who do puzzles might have better memories because of other habits or their genetics. Still, it's worth doing all you can to stay clear-headed, incisive, clever and quick.
Be a social butterfly
Research shows that staying socially active helps maintain brain function. If you're retired and spend time alone, consider a part-time job or volunteer at an organization you support. Join a club there's one for everything these days, from aikido to zither playing. (OK, maybe there isn't one for zither playing but you could start one.)
The brain isn't a muscle, but the more you use it, the better off you'll be. Crossword puzzles, word-find games, jigsaw puzzles and other games (like cards) are great ways to keep your brain active. See, that weekly poker game is good for more than just gossip.
Never stop learning
Attend lectures or take a class on something you've always wanted to know more about. Visit museums and art galleries. Reading and listening to the radio are great too but reading aloud activates more of your brain, so find someone to share a story with you, like those cute grandkids.
Move your muscles
Physical exercise helps your heart and lungs and it may help your brain. You don't need a high-intensity workout. A study of people aged 58 to 78 found that those on a 6-month program of brisk walking improved their heart and lung fitness, and increased function in certain parts of the brain. Walkers were able to focus on tasks and pay attention better than the folks who didn't go walking.
Retrain your brain
Changing your routine uses parts of your brain that are usually quiet. Rearrange your furniture or button your shirt with one hand. Close your eyes before you spread jam on your toast. (You can clean up the mess later.) Move your computer's mouse so you have to operate it with your other hand.
Feed your head
The old adage that "fish is brain food" may be true. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to protect brain cells. (If you don't like fish or don't eat enough of it, you might want to take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.)
Here are some other foods to make your brain happy:
This fruit, like many others, contains antioxidants, which neutralize the nasty effects of free radicals. A free radical is a molecule that "steals" an electron from another molecule. The other molecule then become a free radical, and now it's searching for an electron. All this "electron stealing" can damage a cell. Antioxidants can give up an electron and remain stable, so they're useful for taking the punch out of free radicals.
- Green leafy vegetables
Every "healthy eating" article touts the benefits of green leafy vegetables. We like them because they contain high levels of folate, a vitamin that helps break down homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
- Broccoli and cauliflower
These "cruciferous vegetables" appear to help maintain brain power. Results from the Nurses' Health Study show that women who ate these veggies most frequently staved off memory loss better than women who ate them the least frequently.
- Fruit juice
One study found that people who drank at least 3 glasses of juice a week had Ό the risk of Alzheimer's disease, compared with people who drank less than one glass per week. Take your pick apple, grape, cranberry and start guzzling.
More than half your brain is fat; you need it to stay sharp. But stick with "good" fats, those found in nuts, fish, canola oil and olive oil. Avoid saturated fats (from meat and dairy) and trans fats (from margarine and many processed foods).
Moderate alcohol consumption 1 drink a day for women; 1 or 2 for men appears to help keep the brain healthy.
Remember, it's always better to eat healthful foods than to take a vitamin. One multiple vitamin per day won't hurt you, but high doses of any vitamin aren't recommended.
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