Stay sharp with just a few simple changes to your day
“Our brain really is the boss of your body, controlling all of your functions, movements and emotions, so it’s important to keep it healthy and working at its best,” says neuroradiologist Dr Emer MacSweeney.
“Recent research has shown that you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent just by making small changes to your lifestyle.”
What you eat, how much you exercise and how you use your brain can all make a difference to how well your brain ages and help you stay happy and independent for years to come.
Your four brain boosters
Keep your grey matter in great shape by adding these quick healthy habits into your day.
Eat fruit or veg at every meal. Topping up your diet with foods rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin C, beta carotene, zinc and Vitamin E could improve your long-term memory by 39 per cent, according to French researchers. “The fresher your diet the healthier you (and your brain) will be,” says Dr Emer MacSweeney. “Try to pack your plate full of antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables at each meal.” Add one 80g (31⁄2oz) portion of fruit or vegetables to your three main meals and you’ll only need to squeeze in two portions for snacks to reach your five a day.
Get your heart pumping
“Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do to help protect yourself against developing dementia,” says Dr MacSweeney. The aim is to send blood and oxygen whizzing around your body to your brain so it can get all the nutrients it needs.
But you don’t need to work out for hours to get the benefits. Just ten minutes of activity is enough to give your brain a brief upgrade and help to improve your mental performance, say Canadian researchers. If ten minutes in one go seems too much at first, break it down into smaller chunks. Walk up and down the stairs, go for a walk around the garden or dance in your living room – just remember that you should be working hard enough to get your heart pumping and you should be a little out of breath, too.
Flex your memory muscle
“Your brain, just like any other part of your body, needs to be looked after and exercised regularly,” says Dr MacSweeney. “Playing brain games such as Sudoku, doing crosswords or jigsaw puzzles challenge your brain and help to improve your memory.” Set yourself a mental challenge every day such as memorising some of your shopping list, or a list of calendar dates, a puzzle or two, or even learn a few words of another language.
Oil the cogs
Your brain is 60 per cent fat and fatty acids are an important part of every cell. You get these fatty acids from your diet and they can be found in oily sh such as salmon, mackerel or sardines. “That’s why it’s so important to eat two portions (a portion is 150g/5oz) of oily sh every week,” says Dr MacSweeney. They protect your brain from injury and help reduce inflammation. Did you know? Your brain generates up to 25 watts of electricity – enough to power a low-wattage LED light!
Connecting with friends and family both lowers your stress levels and stimulates your mind. Studies show that 15 minutes of good conversation is better for your cognitive health than watching a TV show.
When to get help?
Keep a check on your memory and see your GP if you start to notice any of the following symptoms – they might be signs that your grey matter needs some extra care...
- Forgetting names and important dates is not uncommon, but not being able to recall these when given a cue is much more of a concern.
- Unexpected and uncharacteristic anger and changes in mood.
- Confusion, such as losing track of time or problems with processing information.
- Losing your sense of direction, getting lost or disorientated in a familiar environment.
- Misplacing items such as putting keys in the freezer or milk in the dishwasher and not being able to retrace your steps to find them again.
Helping your brain clear away toxins, plaques and proteins that build up throughout the day, sleep helps to preserve your memory longer term. It also helps us to remember new things and improves our levels of conversation.
Lifestyle choices are the key to keeping your grey matter in tip-top condition. That means eating the foods that will help improve your memory, exercising regularly to get plenty of oxygen and nutrients to your brain and challenging yourself with games and new projects. It’s important to keep up social contacts too as that also counts as a brain booster. Use our healthy habit tracker (below) to note down the days when you manage to achieve a few of these, with the aim of developing the habit of doing all five!
15 Minutes to Great Health is our ongoing 2018 campaign – giving you fast and easy tweaks to your lifestyle and diet that can, when added together, make a huge difference to your health and wellbeing. Missed any of the previous parts? Don’t worry – you can join in at any time! Or if you would like to catch up on our advice on healthy eating, fitness and mood boosting, you’ll find them at www.yours.co.uk/15-minutes-to-great-health