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Mental Exercise

Everyday Ways to Stay Sharp

Want to keep your brain in shape? Work it.

15. Try some new tea. Tulsi tea, made of an Indian herb called holy basil, and ginseng tea both contain herbs that can help reduce overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, which can hamper memory. The herbs also help keep you alert.

16. Sit quietly, choose a word that calms you, and when your mind starts to wander, say the word silently. A form of meditation, this type of activity can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which zaps memory. Meditation also helps mitigate focus-stealing feelings like depression and anxiety.

17. Get with the times—keep calendars in every room. Checking calendars keeps you focused and oriented, while creating a mental picture of the day in your head.

18. Get some class. Live near a college? Research shows that taking courses—even just auditing them—can stave off dementia at an early age. Don't go in for formal learning? Check out book readings, seminars, and other educational events.

19. Wear a helmet. Riding your bike is great for your health—until you fall and get a concussion. Even one serious concussion could increase your risk of developing dementia. So protect your physical brain as meticulously as you would protect its functioning by doing brain teasers.

20. Sip red wine, judiciously. Up to two glasses for women and up to three for men weekly delivers the powerful antioxidant resveratrol, which may prevent free radicals from damaging brain cells. But beware: Drinking more than that could leach thiamine, a brain-boosting nutrient.

21. Check your thyroid. It's a tiny little gland in your neck, but it could have a big effect on brain health: Thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) help nerve cells make connections. If you don't have enough of them you may be depressed, tired, and foggy-headed.

22. Choose lean pork loin crusted in peanuts and broccoli over fries and a burger. The pork and peanuts are high in thiamin, a nutrient that reduces inflammation that damages brain cells. The folate in broccoli is good for keeping synapses firing correctly.

23. Replace candy with a sweet pick-me-up of pears, apples, oranges, and cantaloupe. The combination prevents elevated blood sugar that could impede brain cells from firing correctly. It also provides fiber and antioxidants that help scrub plaque from brain arteries and mop up free radicals that inhibit clear thinking.

24. Top rolled oats with cinnamon for a brainy breakfast. The oats scrub plaques from your brain arteries, while a chemical in cinnamon is good for keeping your blood sugar in check—which can improve neurotransmission.

25. Turn up the tunes. TV may provide a lot of stimuli, but watching too much can dull brain transmission. Instead, spend an afternoon listening to your favorite music. Music can lower stress hormones that inhibit memory and increase feelings of well-being that improve focus.

26. Curry up. The active ingredient in Indian curry, turmeric, contains resveratrol, the same powerful antioxidant that makes red wine good for brain health. Eat curry once a week, or sprinkle it on salads, to protect brain cells from harmful free radicals.

27. Take a food break. Research shows that people who fast one day a week or month unlock a unique form of blood glucose that helps the brain more efficiently transmit information. Then break your fast with brain-healthy blueberries, walnuts, and maybe a glass of red wine.

28. Replace the olive oil in your favorite vinaigrette with walnut oil. Walnut oil, which is chock-full of brain-healthy omega-3s, cuts brain inflammation, a precursor to many cognitive problems. It also keeps oxygen-rich blood flowing to your brain by thinning the blood slightly.

29. Go wild with fish. While fish is generally good for you, the metals that accumulate in farmed fish like tilapia may contribute to cognitive impairments. So when you're shopping, check that the fish is from the wild, not domestically raised, and stick with heart- and brain-healthy fish like salmon and sardines.

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