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Our brains have been with us for the long-haul. Think of all they have been through! They’ve put up with a lot. They’ve worked really hard. And more importantly, they need to keep working for obvious reasons!
As women over fifty, we all find ourselves losing our glasses. Or our cars. Or our credit card (don’t tell my husband!).
I’ve got good news for you. There are things we can do to sharpen our minds. And no, it doesn’t involve magic.
Here’s how to improve memory and boost your brain, according to yours truly and science.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
Not surprisingly, brain health and body health are interwoven. Studies have shown that engaging in basic good health habits can prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia. A recent interview with a dietitian friend of mine taught me several other healthy eating habits that help fend off the dreaded brain-fog.
To keep your brain in sharp in the years beyond 50, make sure you get adequate rest, engage in regular and vigorous exercise, limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day, don’t smoke, and eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated or trans fats.
Eat More Fish
Make sure that fish is a regular part of that healthy diet.
People who eat fish at least once a week have a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, tuna, and cod, are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your brain. Recent studies have shown that eating fish every week may slow cognitive decline by 10% per year.
Over your lifetime, that’s like turning back the clock by 3 to 4 years!
I was practically raised on salmon and truly enjoy it. But if you didn’t grow up eating fish you might not feel the same way. Considering the benefits, learning to love fish is something you owe your brain.
BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY
Socializing is important in helping us build a cognitive reserve to draw upon if or when other areas of brain function begin to decline. Dr. Oscar Ybarra, associate professor from the University of Michigan explains how this works. “When you interact with other people, it’s likely that structures in the frontal lobe that are responsible for ‘executive functions’ – like planning, decision making, and response control – get fired up.”
Additionally, socializing with others helps reduce cortisol, the destructive stress hormone that can damage your body as well as your brain.
DON’T WORRY. BE HAPPY.
It probably comes as no surprise that stress, worry, and consistently negative thoughts are bad for your brain. Science definitely backs that up.
A 2007 study showed that people who experience frequent positive emotions were 60% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. Another study showed that older people with lower levels of chronic stress scored better on memory tests.
It’s easy to say, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” It can be a lot harder to do it.
I love my work but trying to make a living as a writer can be very stressful. The demands on my time are constant. Basically, I’ve been on a deadline since 2004.
I’ve learned to reduce my stress by taking advantage of even small blocks of time to do things I enjoy such as reading, crafting, listening to music, or even just calling a friend. Keeping a gratitude journal is another good stress buster. When I’ve had a tough day, writing down the things I’m grateful for helps remind me that there’s also a lot of good in my life.
No matter how busy I am, I make time to get outside every day. Ideally, I like to walk for thirty minutes but even a ten-minute break in the fresh air helps clear my mind and calm my heart.
Small strategies like this can definitely help reduce your stress levels but they may not be the whole answer.
If you’re experiencing long-term, chronic stress caused by your work or relationships, it might be time to talk to a counselor or spiritual advisor to discuss making changes to your life.
If you’re experiencing ongoing depression, talk to your doctor. Chronic depression is a disease, not a personal weakness on your part. If you haven’t been able to shake depression on your own, seek help in doing so. Your body, your brain, and probably most of the people who know you will be so glad you did.
Multiple studies have shown that mental challenge and lifelong learning are the key to keeping the brain sharp.
Higher levels of education are associated with better brain function in old age, probably because it helps keeps memory strong by getting people into the habit of being mentally active.
Just because you didn’t have time or opportunity to get a doctorate degree doesn’t mean you’re doomed to premature brain fade! It’s never too late to develop healthy habits to sharpen your beyond 50 brain.
Learning a new skill, something that is really difficult and even frustrating, gives a big boost to brain health by forcing the brain to develop new neural pathways. If you’re not a technically minded person, that might mean learning some automotive skills, taking a computer or math class. (I just put together an entire IKEA sleeper sofa – I think that counts.) If you’re not a word person, memorizing poetry or learning a foreign language might be the boost your brain needs.
Einstein Says So
Some of the most concrete evidence on how learning and mental challenges can keep our brain sharp came from a 21 year long study of people age 75 and older, conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
The study, whose results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, set out to see what, if any, activities influenced mental acuity. They looked at a huge range of activities – reading, writing for pleasure, doing puzzles, playing cards or musical instruments, playing tennis, swimming, golfing, and dancing.
Surprisingly, they discovered that, while all physical activity had cardiovascular benefits in warding off disease that can negatively impact the brain, only one actually protected the brain against dementia – dancing!
Not just any type of dancing but, specifically, ballroom dancing performed on a frequent basis.
Why is ballroom dancing so good for your brain?
Scientists believe it is because ballroom dancing integrates multiple brain functions at once – kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional. So if you are wondering how to improve memory and have fun, this one is for you.
As my husband and I can tell you from experience, ballroom dancing can be hard!
It’s not just about memorizing steps. It also requires you to read your partner’s movements, make split second decisions, and stay completely focused on what you’re doing. All that simultaneous mental activity seems to supercharge brain function.
The Einstein study concluded that dancing was the number one way to protect the brain. People who engage in frequent ballroom dancing experience a 76% reduction in dementia.
If you ever needed an excuse to buy some sparkly, twinkle-toes dance shoes and a floaty chiffon dress, you’ve got one now!
But, if you don’t have a partner or dance just isn’t your thing, don’t worry. The Einstein study outlined some other effective ways to help keep your beyond 50 brain sharp.
Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week reduced the incidence of dementia by 47%.
However, recent studies have shown that “pay to play” websites, such as Lumosity, that claim to boost brain function with online games, don’t live up to the hype. Rather than pay for a monthly subscription for an ineffective online brain game site, get a subscription to a local paper with a good daily crossword or purchase a book of puzzles.
My Favorite Way to Boost my Over Fifty Brain
Another means of maintaining brain health that makes me particularly happy is… (wait for it…)
It’s true! The Einstein study showed that people who read on a regular basis are 35% less likely to develop dementia.
Want to learn more about how to improve memory?
However you go about doing it, I’m sure you’ll agree that keeping your beyond 50 brain matters. Take care of yourself and your brain by incorporating some brain healthy habits into your life today.