The 5 Best Habits that Keep Your Brain Sharp

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Lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise and sleep all have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. During our everyday lives, we can make the appropriate choices to keep our brains sharp for the rest of our lives. Here are the top 5 ways to keep a good head on your shoulders:

Eat a healthy diet
Recent research has found that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fish, fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of developing dementia in later years. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are rich in vitamins such as Vitamin E, B6 and folic acid that protect against brain cell damage. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, walnuts, and kiwi, also provide brain benefits. Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute says that omega-3s improve learning and memory, and may also help to fight against such mental disorders as depression. And red wine contains a compound called resveratrol that may help prevent a buildup of plaque that cause the breakdown in neuron communication seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

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Exercise Regularly
Exercise has been shown to boost the brains rate of neurogenesis – the production of new brain cells. A study from the Archives of General Psychiatry found that aerobic exercise particularly increases volume in an area known as the hippocampus, which helps regulate both memory (especially short-term) and emotion. While running mindlessly on a treadmill for 30 minutes does have brain benefits, to get the most out of exercise, choose a fitness activity that also requires some concentration, such as dancing or a group sport. These activities can improve coordination and focus.

Get Enough Sleep
Sleep loss causes profound cognitive and behavioral impairment resulting in difficulty paying attention, poor problem-solving ability, reduction in working memory, lack of alertness, and decreased reaction time. Dr. Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen from the Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia found that medical interns who were sleep deprived made 36% more serious medical errors than those who got adequate rest. The number of hours of sleep that is best varies per individual, but you know when you’ve gotten enough when you feel alert and rested in the morning.

Keep the Mind Active
A recent Scottish study found that a higher IQ may be a good predictor of long life. Playing games or spending time in continual learning slow the mental decline that is associated with aging. Even later in life, taking up a new musical instrument or studying a new language can help keep the brain cells firing efficiently.

Keep Your Head Safe
The skiing deaths of Sonny Bono and Natasha Richardson highlight the need to maintain safety during physical and leisure activities. The brain has the consistency of a hard-boiled egg. Bruising it even mildly can have a significant impact on memory. According to a recent study at the University of Calgary, wearing a helmet during winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding can reduce the risk of head injury by 35%. When summer comes, don’t forget helmets for cycling and roller-blading. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute says that head injuries account for more than 60% of bicycle-related deaths and non-helmeted riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than helmeted riders.

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