Memory Food: The Many Ways to Protect Your Brain
Some believe the jury is still out on the merits of memory
food -- all the preventative measures seniors can use to protect
their brains from the ravages of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Fortunately, recent evidence is proving otherwise.
So, what's changed? Instead of viewing these strategies from a "move
it or lose it" perspective, scientists have found that boosting cognitive
prowess, thanks to a steady diet of mental training along with better
nutrition, sleep and exercise habits, may be the ticket to protecting
your brain and bolstering the health of an aging nation over the long
The benefits are obvious: Alzheimer's disease currently affects up
to 4.5 million Americans, and is headed on a devastating course to
more than triple that number to some 16 million by 2050 if preventative
measures aren't taken. The current annual price tag attached to this
devastating disease and other dementias: More than $148 billion in
What follows is a list of common-sense recommendations that may bolster
the health of your brain and body, all without taking a single drug.
Sleep On It
Getting the right amount of sleep every day does wonders for your health
in so many ways, not to mention improving your memory. For example,
a recent study demonstrated how cellular changes in the sleeping brains
of animals promote the formation of memories. In another important
study, senior African-Americans who reported sleeping difficulties
fared far worse on memory tests than those who had no trouble falling
What's more, sleep can help your brain learn complicated tasks -- Ever
try playing Halo with your child on his or her PlayStation the second
time -- and recover what you thought was lost information after eight
hours in the sack.
These tips, among many from the Mayo Clinic, can help you get the right
amount of sleep every night:
Exercise Your Memories
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Keep your bedroom as cool, comfortable and dark as possible.
- Maintain the same sleep schedule every day, including weekends.
- Taking a 90-minute daytime nap speeds up the consolidation of long-term
Reports have also linked an ongoing exercise regimen -- even devoting
as little as 2.5 hours each week to walking -- to improved memory and
Columbia University researchers believe exercise really hits the "sweet
spot" of the brain in the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus (where
normal age-related declines in memory begin for adults at age 30). Using
MRI imaging, scientists observed the improved growth of neurons, a process
known as neurogenesis, in the human brain after exercising (previous
research on mice reached the very same conclusions).
Some suggestions to help you start moving in the right direction today:
1. Meet with your doctor to develop the exercise program best suited
for your body and mind. And, while you're there, have your blood pressure
and cholesterol levels checked.
2. Walking is a good way to start moving immediately and to improve your
cognitive functioning, but don't skimp on the details.
3. Make fun a priority in any exercise program.
Eat for Your Brain, Heart and Body
As detrimental as consuming fatty, sugary foods can be to your health,
a heart-healthy diet can be the gift that keeps on giving to your body
-- allowing oxygen and nutrients to flow freely through your bloodstream
-- and to your brain.
For example, nutrient-rich foods containing phytochemicals have been
shown to reverse age-related memory problems in animals. Fact is, there's
seemingly no limit to the good foods chock full of vital nutrients, including
omega-3 fatty acids (like those food in fish), vitamin B6, vitamin B12
and vitamin E, beta carotene and antioxidants.
Just a few of the many healthy-for-your-mind food options at your disposal:
Play Games With Your Brain
- Fish containing essential omega-3 fatty acids
- Antioxidant-rich cherries, blueberries and red apples
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and mustard greens
- Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage and Brussels
- Flavonoids found in chocolate, wine and tea
Probably, the most enjoyable aspect of memory food is the fun you'll
have exercising your brain by being more mentally active. Just the variety
of activities waiting to be pursued -- from sedentary pastimes like reading,
to learning a new hobby and the skills that go with it, to playing games
-- is almost endless.
What's more, the payoff from mental exercise, according to a 2006 study
of 2,800 seniors, may last five years, if not longer.
The real trick, experts say, isn't getting people started: It's keeping
them motivated. Much like increasing the speed on the treadmill at your
neighborhood gym to improve body strength and endurance, training your
brain requires increasingly tougher challenges.
But, it doesn't mean you're stuck playing Sudoku, chess or any kind of
expensive game just to keep your brain active and alert. There's, plenty
of free resources available on the Internet, and you won't have to download
any software to play them (even AARP devotes a page on its Web site to
free games and puzzles). Have some fun, test your memory and train your
brain at the same time by visiting these Web sites:
Free Brain Games.com
60 Second Brain Game.com
Switched.com: Top 11 Free Brain Games
The Problem Site.com
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The statements above have not been evaluated by the US Food & Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Due to periodic improvements, our formulas and prices are subject to change.