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Mental Exercise

Everyday Ways to Stay Sharp

Want to keep your brain in shape? Work it.

One of the best ways to stay sharp is to exercise that muscle between your ears, research indicates. And discussions with some of the top scientists studying the brain reveal that you can work your noggin in many different ways, every day.

Here are 50 of them:

1. Snack on almonds and blueberries instead of a candy bar. As they lower blood sugar, healthy snacks can improve cognition. In this case, the omega-3s in the almonds and the antioxidants in the blueberries can keep your brain functioning correctly.

2. Ballroom dance like the stars. Dancing is a brain-power activity. How so? Learning new moves activates brain motor centers that form new neural connections. Dancing also calms the brain's stress response.

3. Love the crunch of croutons on your salad? Try walnuts instead. Omega-3s in walnuts have been found to improve mood and calm inflammation that may lead to brain-cell death. They also replace lost melatonin, which is necessary for healthy brain functioning.

4. Take your dog—or yourself—for a walk. Walking for just 20 minutes a day can lower blood sugar. That helps stoke blood flow to the brain, so you think more clearly.

5. Add Chinese club moss to your daily vitamin regimen. Taking less than 100 micrograms of the herb daily may protect your brain's neurotransmitters and keep synapses firing correctly, tests suggest. But this herb is powerful, so check with your doctor for drug interactions.

6. Volunteer to answer questions at the library, arboretum, museum, or hospital. Playing tour guide forces you to learn new facts and think on your feet, helping to form new neural pathways in your brain. What's more, interacting with others can ease stress that depletes memory.

7. Grab a video-game joystick. New video games, such as the Wii and Nintendo DS, offer brain teasers that make you learn the computer's interface as you master the brain games. That's a double boost to the formation of new neural connections and to response time and memory.

8. Leave your comfort zone. Getting good at sudoku? Time to move on. Brain teasers don't form new neural connections once you've mastered them. So try something that's opposite your natural skills: If you like numbers, learn to draw. If you love language, try logic puzzles.

9. Get support for stressors. You may love your ailing family member, but the chronic stress of facing the situation alone can shrink your brain's memory center. Interacting with others activates many parts of the brain—and learning new ways of coping forms new neural connections.

10. When you look around, really look. Stare straight ahead, and now—without moving your eyes—see if you can make out what's at the periphery. Do this regularly and you'll stimulate the neural and spatial centers of the brain, which can atrophy as you age.

11. When you look forward, also look around. Walking down the street, don't just keep your eyes forward. Scan to the left and to the right. These actions can activate rarely used parts of the brain. That in turn can spur brain cell growth and new neural connections.

12. Show, don't tell. When you woke up this morning, how bright was the light in your room? What did the air smell like when you opened the window? How many colors could you discern in your garden? Notice and report these details to others to prompt cell growth in the visual, verbal, and memory parts of the brain.

13. Listen for details when a friend tells a story. Heed changes in the person's tone and register small facts you might otherwise gloss over. Conjure a mental image of the story. By doing this, you activate multiple areas in the brain and encourage memory formation.

14. Drink two cups of gotu kola tea daily. This ayurvedic herb, used for centuries in India, regulates dopamine. That's the brain chemical that helps protect brain cells from harmful free radicals, boosts pleasurable feelings, and improves focus and memory.

Next page: Try some new tea. »

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