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5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Brain SharpEveryone is forgetful, but as we age, we start to feel like our brains are slowing down a bit—and that can be the most frustrating thing in the world. Luckily, research shows there is a lot you can do to avoid those “senior moments." Whether it's relaxation or adding certain foods to your diet, read on for some techniques worth trying.

 1. Chill Out

The brain remembers better when it’s relaxed, say researchers at the California Institute of Technology, so take a few minutes each day to breathe deeply or meditate. "The positive of meditation is you have focused concentration and relaxation taking place at the same time," says Elizabeth Edgerly, PhD, spokesperson for the Alzheimer's Association. "Researchers believe those things are good because they're developing new connections for your brain cells."

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 2. Focus on the Future

People who regularly made plans and looked forward to upcoming events had a 50 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study. But don’t worry if your calendar isn’t overflowing with life-changing events.  Something as simple as setting a goal to have a weekly coffee date with a friend (and keeping it) will do. "Psychologically it keeps us motivated," Dr. Edgerly says. "There's evidence that people who have a purpose in life or who are working on long-or short-term goals appear to do better." In other words, keep your brain looking forward.

 3. Go for a Walk

Mildly elevated glucose levels (even if you don’t have diabetes) can harm the area of the brain that helps you form memories, say Columbia University researchers. Experts agree that physical activity can help get blood glucose down to normal levels. In fact, the strongest evidence is regarding the effect of physical activity on the brain. Dr. Edgerly says, "When you exercise, you release chemicals that are good for your brain. It's like a mini fountain of youth in your brain, and the only way you can get it is exercise." In other words, when you take care of your heart, you take care of your brain.

 4. Snack on Berries

Blueberries have compounds called anthocyanins that help communication between brain cells and appear to improve memory, says Robert Krikorian, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. In general, Dr. Edgerly says the darker the fruit or vegetable, the better. She adds, "It's a healthy, well-rounded diet, especially one that mimics a Mediterranean diet, and that's fish, lots of fruits and vegetables, and red wine, everyone likes the red wine part."

 5. Learn Something New

Take a Spanish class online, join a knitting club, or learn to play poker. A UC Irvine study found that mental stimulation limits the debilitating effects of aging on memory and the mind. But the best thing for your brain, Dr. Edgerly insists, is when you combine learning something new with physical activity. "It should be something like dancing, or coaching a sport. Or go learn golf with your girlfriends. That sort of thing is even better for your brain than, say, a crossword puzzle.”

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