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Staying healthy means taking care of both our bodies and our minds. Keeping your body in shape is already a common goal, but many forget that keeping your mind sharp takes effort as well. Sharpening your mind requires a combination of maintaining general health and specific brain training. Include some of the following suggestions in your routine to help you get (and keep) your mind working well.
Regular aerobic exercise not only boosts your mood and makes you generally healthier, but also increases blood flow to the brain.
Eating a balanced diet that includes fatty fish and antioxidant and omega-3 rich foods not only helps keep your body running correctly, but may also improve brain function. Also, try adding coffee or tea to your routine—both are shown to have mental benefits, like decreasing your likelihood of Alzheimer’s, though the specific benefit depends on the beverage. After you drink your coffee or tea, chew a piece of gum. The slight increase in heart rate means more oxygen circulates to your brain and it can help keep you more alert!
Be sure to make time to sleep. Much important memory formation happens while you sleep, so depriving yourself of sleep doesn’t give your brain the time to move memories into the long-term memory category. Plus, naps have been shown to improve memory, even if they are only six minutes long! So next time you’re feeling sluggish, go ahead and take that nap! For the most restful nap, be sure to nap less than 30 minutes or in 90-minute increments. And don’t nap too close to bedtime or you might interfere with your nighttime sleep! Just remember to set an alarm if you need to be up. Try FreakyAlarm if waking up isn’t your strong suit. Not only will it wake you up, but it’ll make you solve puzzles (which fall into the brain training category, below) before the alarm shuts off, too.
Set aside non-sleeping, relaxing time. Relaxing and de-stressing not only make you feel better immediately, but also help you avoid the negatives associated with long-term stress.
Spend time with your friends and family. Not only does this help reduce the stress hormone cortisol, but it also increases your “cognitive reserve,” strengthening your brain so that if some part declines, other parts can compensate. Plus, people that maintain relationships with family and friends have been shown to live up to 20% longer. Pets count as family too! Spending time with furry friends can have a positive impact, physically, mentally and emotionally, including encouraging you to stay active.
Finally, make sure to train your brain, and often. The brain-training company Lumosity offers games to improve your cognitive function. You can play some for free or purchase a subscription for access to all of them! They even have an iPhone app (and ones are in the works for other platforms). Other brain-training games include Sudoku, Chinese checkers and crossword puzzles. Even better, pick a game that cross-trains your brain, meaning that it makes you use both your left (which controls verbal memory and logic) and right (which controls visual memory) brains together! Just be sure to change things up every once and a while. Changes to routine add excitement and make sure that you train different parts of your brain! For a simple way to change things up, try using your non-dominant hand. Right-handed? Stir spaghetti sauce with your left hand. Left-handed? Brush your teeth with you right hand. Or try walking backwards!