Train your brain

It’s never too late to sharpen your mind and lower your risk of dementia later in life. We’ve scoured the latest research to help you do just that…

Meet our expert: Dr Joanna Iddon, consultant neuropsychologist and co-author of Memory Boosters (Hamlyn, £6.99)

Play a memory game

Your mind’s like a muscle – it needs exercise – and you can use everyday activities to give it a simple workout.

Do this: “Your supermarket shop is a great opportunity to exercise your mind,” says consultant neuropsychologist Dr Joanna Iddon. “It’s always best to try to fit things that are good for your brain into your daily life.” She suggests breaking your list into categories – fruit and veg, dairy, meat and fish and so on – and writing everything down within those. Then try to remember as much as you can within each category, without referring to your list.

See your friends

Having a broad social network could help to reduce your risk of dementia by half, studies show. It lowers your chances of depression, which has been linked to cognitive decline, and might also encourage you to do other brain-friendly activities, such as exercise.

Do this: Make a point of meeting up with pals once a week. Why not take the chance to do something new or active, whether that’s bowling, dancing or Nordic walking?

Exercise for brain benefits

Women who walk for at least one-and-a-half hours a week are less likely to have memory problems than those who walk for 40 minutes or less according to one study. The reason? Exercise increases circulation to the brain and helps it lay down new neural pathways.

Do this: Vary your workouts. The more you can do, the better. Trying different activities is another way of exercising your brain as well as your body – so go for a brisk walk one day, then later in the week have a swim.


Eat more wholegrains

Swapping white carbohydrates for wholegrain versions could help reduce your risk of dementia. The Mind Diet, pioneered by Rush University, US, which has been found to halve risk of Alzheimer’s includes three daily servings of whole grains such as barley, wheat and oats.

Do this: Try to have a portion of whole grains at every meal. Start your day with porridge, make your lunchtime sarnie with rye or wholegrain bread, then go for brown rice with dinner.

Sharpen your number memory

Another easy everyday way to exercise your brain is to memorise some numbers. Joanna recommends the ‘chunking’ technique – remembering numbers in blocks.

Do this: Go through your mobile phone and try to memorise some key phone numbers by chunking them into groups of three or four figures.

Detox your brain with sleep

A good night’s sleep effectively ‘cleans’ your brain, allowing cells to shrink and gaps to open between the neurons, so cleansing fluid can wash through, removing damaging toxins, according to research.

Do this: Prioritise sleep. Allow half an hour to wind down before bed, with reading or a relaxing bath, to lull you into a solid night’s kip. And if you’re having ongoing problems sleeping, see your GP for support.

Eat fat for a better memory

But choose the right fat. Research has shown eating just one weekly portion of oily fish – such as mackerel – can halve the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Do this: Bake a salmon fillet and have it with steamed spinach and some brown rice for a brain-boosting meal. Studies have shown that green leafy veg could also help protect against Alzheimer’s.

Keep learning

“This is the ultimate mind workout,” says Joanna. Learning helps activate the neural circuits in your brain and keeps your mind young.

Do this: Start learning a language. A University of Edinburgh study found speaking a second language helps slow brain ageing, and even older adults who learn another language later in life experience benefits.


Dance your brain healthy!

Dancing helps encourage the formation of new neural pathways, leading to a 76 per cent drop in dementia risk according to a US study

Do this: Take up ballroom – it’s the best type of dancing for boosting your brain because it involves making small, spontaneous decisions. Go dancing with friends for even more benefits.

What about brain training?

“There’s no real evidence brain-training games help,” says Jo. “When it comes to technology, the most useful thing is probably to stay on top of new gadgets. Learning to use all the functions on a computer, tablet or smartphone properly is quite complex and mastering it builds some new neurons.

“ As for games, playing things like bridge with friends is your best bet – it helps boost your brain and gives you a social element too, which is also important for protecting your brain.”

  • By Charlotte Haigh
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