Brain workouts keep dementia at bay

Your body needs exercise, and so does your mind. Much like the body, the mind can also be kept fit and healthy well into old age.

Research has shown that regular mental workouts, along with a healthy diet and physical exercise, combat memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and general neurological decline in the elderly.

Regular mental exercises, such as reading, doing crossword puzzles, or learning a new language, give the brain a workout and really help it stay sharper and clearer for longer. Other mental aerobic exercises include:

  • Playing games that get your brain working, such as trivia games, Sudoku, chess or bridge.
  • Doing crossword puzzles.
  • Reading intellectually stimulating books.
  • Trying to read them upside down.
  • Getting creative and starting a new hobby, or writing poetry.
  • And to really get that grey matter working, try and write with your non-dominant hand for 30 minutes at a stretch.

If you think you're getting forgetful, try the following tips to kick-start your memory:

  • Really pay attention to things you want to remember. Concentrating on a particular thought will help you to memorise it.
  • Repetition helps stamp things into your mind – so say it again and again and again.
  • Writing things down also reinforces memory.
  • Keep a calendar of important appointments or events and check it regularly.

In addition, a healthy lifestyle can also help keep your grey matter intact.

"Physical and mental well-being are closely intertwined," Professor James Maddux from George Mason University in the United States, and a leading expert on the physical benefits of good mental health, told HealthDay.

One of the best ways to care for your mind is to look after your heart, according to a Time report. People who get regular cardiovascular exercise are generally better protected against cognitive decline than those who don’t get any exercise.

A healthy diet also improves one's mental capacity into old age. A study by the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago found that vegetables boost brain power among the elderly. "By far, the association with a slower rate of decline was found in the group that ate high amounts of green, leafy vegetables," Martha Clare Morris, lead author of the study told HealthDay. Such foods included lettuce and tossed salad, spinach and kale.

A study by the UCLA Medical School found that the following foods, along with mental and physical exercise, improved one's memory within just two weeks:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – found in fatty fish (such as salmon and herring), walnuts, and flaxseeds.
  • Carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index (GI), such as whole grains and vegetables.
  • Antioxidants, which are natural chemicals found in a wide variety of plants.

Morris suspects that vegetables may help protect memory and thinking speed because they contain high amounts of vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help reduce the damage caused by free radicals. These are unstable oxygen molecules generated by normal metabolism that can damage neurons in the brain and contribute to dementia. – (Wilma Stassen, July 2007)

Read more:
Alzheimer's and Dementia
Memory tests

- Last updated: August 2011

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