6 actions to keep your brain healthy at any age


If you are in your early to mid-30s, you are lucky. Those are the ages when your brain is at its best. During that time of your life, you can retain the most information at once, you can learn better than at any other time and you can recall details more accurately than you will later in life.

If you are nearing your late 30s or have passed those years, don’t fret. Our brain health expert, Douglas Scharre, MD, shares the ways he keeps his brain in shape and memory strong.

Try them yourself, and share them with your parent or an older person in your life.

Just like a muscle, if you don’t use it, you can lose it. Strengthening your mind will keep your health from falling behind. 

We’re just starting to understand more about brain health, and that knowledge is getting a boost from the opening of the new Ohio State Brain and Spine Hospital.

But here are a doctor’s tips about what you can do today to protect your brain and to reduce your chance of memory decline:

1. Eat like a Mediterranean. 

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil and mixed nuts are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. These items are not only linked to boosting the brain power of elderly people, but they also have been shown to be even more beneficial to your health than a low-fat diet by protecting against type 2 diabetes, preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing muscle weakness and frailty in aging bones.

2. Exercise regularly.

Be it biking, jogging, swimming, yoga or walking, physical activity is essential to maintaining steady blood flow to the brain and encouraging the development of new brain cells. It can also reduce your risk of stroke and diabetes, protecting against risk factors associated with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Do something active at least three times a week for 30 minutes or longer.

3. Solve puzzles and play games.

In addition to the daily crossword puzzle, challenge yourself to new problem-solving exercises. Puzzles and games, especially those involving novelty, can stimulate and challenge key parts of the brain, including reasoning, language, logic, visual perception, attention and flexibility.

4. Pick up a hobby.

Staying curious, involved and committed to lifelong learning are ways to grow brain cells. Hobbies keep your mind active. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that continuous learning likely protects against some forms of dementia, possibly because brain cells and their connections with one another become stronger over time. So volunteer, read, write, garden or travel.

5. Stay socially engaged.

Having lunch with friends can do more than fill your afternoon. Social outings provide mental stimulation, which can build and sustain cognitive power. Research shows that human interaction keeps your brain sharp by reducing the destructive stress hormone cortisol.

6. Kick the habit.

Among the many health reasons smoking is bad for your body is that it can hinder brain function. One study proved that smoking just one cigarette a day for an extended period can reduce cognitive ability, and smoking 15 cigarettes daily hinders critical thinking and memory by almost 2 percent. When you stop smoking, your brain benefits from increased circulation almost instantly.

The great thing about these pointers is that picking them up at any stage in life provides meaningful impact.

Significant memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging. By adjusting your everyday habits, like food choices, exercise and social interactions, you can reduce the risk of memory decline, explains Dr. Scharre. 

Ohio State neurologist Dr. Scharre has developed a pen-and-paper test called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (known as SAGE) that promotes earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

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