4 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Brain Every Day

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The aging brain, dementia and Alzheimer’s are buzz topics in the health space. How can we prevent cognitive decline? is the question of the hour. More and more doctors and researchers are combining their brainpower to come up with ways to power our brains longer.

If you’re looking for everyday ways to ward off conditions like dementia, there’s never been a better time to start strengthening your cognition with easy tricks—whether you’re in your 20s or your 80s, says Douglas Scharre, MD, director of the division of cognitive neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Finally, researchers are gathering major clues about how and why Alzheimer’s develops. “One of the problems we face with brain disease, including degenerative dementia conditions like Alzheimer’ disease, is the disconnection of certain brain areas,” Scharre explains. “Because of localized or focal damage or brain dysfunction, one part to the brain that still works well, may be not be able to communicate effectively to another part that is also working well since the damaged part has disconnected the two areas.”

Although the damaged region can be tiny, it can derail major neural pathways and prevent a healthy, fully-functioning brain. “If we can find alternative ways to bypass the areas working less well, the cognitive and functional deficits would be substantially less.”

This is why you’ve got to flex your brain muscle early, often, regularly and continuously. “Use it,” says Scharre. “Physical and mental exercise appear to be useful in preserving brain function. [Researchers think] perhaps using your brain helps to build alternative pathways to bypass damaged regions.”

When it comes to the brain, the more you use it, the less you lose it. Here are some easy, expert strategies for staying mentally healthy everyday.

For Memory: Repeat and Associate

Have you ever heard that, in order to remember a name, you should repeat it three times after you meet someone? Repetition really does help you store and retain memories, says Scharre, so say it over and over—before associating it with something related, to help a memory root itself in place. “Associate whatever you are trying to remember with some other clue that may help with retrieval,” he explains. “I can remember Jennifer since that is the name of my niece, for example. Or I can remember 314 Market Street, because 3.14 is Pi and I love to buy pie at the market.” The more complex the clues, the harder it is to use them successfully, so keep it as simple as possible.

For Focus: Strategize and Habitualize

For better focus, you need to focus on focusing, says Scharre. (Yes, really!) Think about tactics that will lead to better concentration, and actively tune in. Make eye contact when you’re talking to your co-worker. Shut off your phone when you’re working on a big project on deadline. Turn off music and television when you have to read that deposition. Scharre even suggests a quick shot of caffeine if you need to power through that afternoon meeting. Any excuse for coffee, right?

For Executive Functioning: Connect and Puzzle Out

Executive function is generally considered higher level thinking, which encompasses problem-solving, reasoning and planning. To strengthen this mental skill set, focus on puzzles. Scharre says you can do things like sudoku and New York Times crosswords, but also work on making sound judgements and seeking connections between ideas. Walk through your own decision-making, or dive into a field of study that builds on old research. “Assess differences and similarities between ideas, compare and contrast, relate thoughts to other ideas or constructs,” he explains. “You can think of how things are connected in different ways.” Maybe it’s a Venn Diagram of three different project routes at work, or how Plato’s methods differed from Socrates’. The more you choose to puzzle out, the more you strengthen your brain.

For Overall Brain Health: Movement and Exercise

All physical exercise helps the brain, says Scharre. “The brain controls all voluntary muscle movements,” he says. “It requires connections between motor control centers, and visual, auditory, feeling, and other sensory input modalities, as well as connections to our monitoring centers for pain, time, exhaustion, respiratory centers and more.” So, get up and get moving everyday. Whether it’s training for a marathon, swimming, martial arts, yoga, a meandering walk around the park or 10,000 steps a day. The more you do, the more you’re protected from cognitive degeneration. Up, up!

8 Comments   Join the Conversation

8 CommentsLeave a comment

    • I don’t think so Linda. It says in the article if you’re 80. we have walkers in the walking group here who are 86. Mind, they are fitter than me. I hope it isn’t too late as I am 72!! Good luck.

    • It is never too late for most things. I am 67 and I walk 18 blocks most mornings. It has made a difference in my life. I read, still work for the federal government so I problem solve; and I think alot. Thst might sound silly but I am always checking my memory to make sure it continurs to function properly: What did I have for breakfast; what time did I go to bed, etc. And of course wine always helps! LOL!!!

    • The second paragraph:
      If you’re looking for everyday ways to ward off conditions like dementia, there’s never been a better time to start strengthening your cognition with easy tricks—whether you’re in your 20s or your 80s, says Douglas Scharre, MD, director of the division of cognitive neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
      I walk between 3-5 miles a day but figuring out how Plato’s methods differ from Socrates’s is a bit more then I’m up for. 😀

    • Linda, in my honest opinion, you are three years older than me but I would have to say that it is never too late to increase your brain function. Taking up a hobby like knitting, crocheting, sudoku, puzzles, are easy enough for anyone. Your being 62 means you’ve got plenty of life left to explore! Let’s do it!

  • I understand that being vegetarian and doing regular meditation (along with Yoga) will certainly enhance memory and keep Alzheimer at bay.

  • There should be a relationship between the age, sex and the number of steps a person should take in a day. I am 82 and walking around 7000 steps in a day.
    All opinions are welcome and respected. Please generous in your comments

  • I am 70. I agree, walking is a benefit, as well as doing whatever you want if it gets you UP and off that couch. And taking care of yourself! Getting up and putting on makeup and decent clothes. I went Vegeterian and working on going Vegan which I believe has helped me … went from a 15 down to a 4 which was a nice ‘side effect’ of my not eating meat. And that fitbit is a god send to me! It creates a little challenge each day!

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