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How do you keep your brain young?

How do you keep your brain young?
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A rich new area of science is analysing which healthy habits best keep your mind and memory healthy in the 40s and beyond. Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, co-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, has studied which habits most powerfully boost our cognitive function. Here he shares the most up-to-date research from innovative labs plus the best brain-boosting tips from his book Outsmarting Alzheimer’s. These are daily habits of people with impressive memory.

Play games with your frontal lobe

Play games with your frontal lobe
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Whether you’re deliberating a chess move or bluffing at cards, you’re also giving the frontal lobe, the area of your brain that handles executive function, a workout. “The frontal lobe is particularly vulnerable to degeneration and the effects of ageing,” says Dr. Kosik. According to a 2014 University of Wisconsin study, older adults who routinely worked on puzzles and played board games had higher brain volume in the area responsible for cognitive functions, including memory, than those who didn’t play games.

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Stay young with saa, taa, naa, and maa

Stay young with saa, taa, naa, and maa
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Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, has spent many years studying the meditative tradition called Kirtan Kriya and has found that daily 12-minute sessions of the practice can improve blood flow to the brain and possibly even increase levels of telomerase, an enzyme that slows cell ageing. The practice is simple: While breathing deeply, chant the Sanskrit words saa, taa, naa, maa (which mean “my divine self”) while moving your thumb to touch your index, middle, ring, and pinkie fingers with each new sound. Like any meditation, it may help to lift anxiety and fatigue.

Find out how to teach yourself to meditate.

Protect your mind from your heart

Protect your mind from your heart
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Scientists surveyed volunteers on seven familiar heart-health factors and tested their cognitive performance at two points over eight years. The results found that the more heart-healthy habits people had, the less cognitive decline they exhibited. A stronger cardiovascular system means a stronger pipeline of nutrients to the brain, says lead author Hannah Gardener, ScD, an epidemiologist in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami. The seven heart-health ideals to strive for may be familiar (if they seem overwhelming, Gardener points out that “each one helps”): Not smoking; healthy body mass index (under 25); physically active (for at least 150 minutes a week); healthy total cholesterol (under 200 mg/dL); healthy blood pressure (under 120/80 mmHg); healthy blood sugar (under 100 mg/dL); and balanced diet (rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains; low in sodium and sweets).

Here are 51 everyday habits that reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lift the quality of your white matter

Lift the quality of your white matter
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As the brain ages, its white matter often develops small lesions because of disrupted blood flow, leading to impaired cognitive function and mobility. Researchers at the University of British Columbia wanted to determine whether strength training might offer protection. Women ages 65 to 75 who already had lesions were divided into three groups: once-a-week strength trainers, twice-a-week strength trainers, and those who did other types of exercise. The results: Women who strength trained twice a week showed significantly less progression of white matter lesions than the other two groups did. Key moves you can try at home (using soup cans for weight): biceps curls, triceps extensions, calf raises, mini squats, mini lunges, and lunge walks; aim for 45 minutes a session.

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Make moves directly against Alzheimer’s

Make moves directly against Alzheimer’s
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Exercise benefits the brain by improving vascular health – but newly published research suggests it also combats the chronic neuroinflammation observed in Alzheimer’s, depression and other brain diseases. In such neurological conditions, the inflammation that normally clears tissue damage doesn’t shut off and starts to interfere with communication between neurons. Exercise has proven anti-inflammatory effects against diseases like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, so that could be why exercise protects brain health as well, says assistant professor Jonathan Little, PhD, in a review article in Brain Research Bulletin. “Any type of moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, cycling and swimming can have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Little. Aim for about 30 minutes a day.

Don’t miss these 19 things you can do in under 10 minutes to help you live longer.

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Get your blood pumping

Get your blood pumping
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Although any exercise is good, aerobic workouts may be the best for brain health. A study from Wake Forest School of Medicine showed that the brain volume was higher in elderly people who participated in aerobic exercise than in people who just stretched. The aerobic exercisers also saw their cognitive function improve over a six-month period. “Research shows that aerobic exercise increases blood flow in the hippocampus, the memory region of the brain,” says neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas. “This is also the area most affected by Alzheimer’s, so you are strengthening a vulnerable part of the brain.”

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Think deep thoughts

Think deep thoughts
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The brain relies on connections between neurons to function well; in Alzheimer’s, these connections begin to die off. Doing all you can now to help strengthen your neural connections will help protect your brain as you age. So use any opportunity in your daily routine for critical thought and analysis. “The strongest mental habit is to pursue deeper level thinking,” Dr. Chapman says. “This can happen in your everyday life, for instance abstracting themes from shows you see or books you read. Deeper-level thinking is like push-ups and sit-ups for the brain.” Joining a book club or even discussing last week’s episode of your favourite show with your partner is an excellent place to start.

Find out the 13 common illnesses that have been linked to Alzheimer’s.

Keep your mind working

Keep your mind working
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Another way to keep those neurons strong is to encourage neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself and form new connections. Studies have shown that cognitive stimulation actually helps improve brain plasticity. Any new tasks you embark on can help keep your brain active, motivated and inspired. “The brain is quickly jaded on routine and goes to auto-pilot when it gets bored,” Dr. Chapman says. “Doing new things – and improving things you’re already doing – can help your brain gain ground.”

These 15 daily habits could be ageing you prematurely.

Get brain circuits singing

Get brain circuits singing
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Listening to or playing music can activate the motor cortex (touching a piano key or guitar string), the auditory cortex (hearing the notes you make), and the emotional centre, or limbic system (feeling moved by a beautiful passage). “Circuits and networks are stimulated by these activities, which help keep the brain healthy,” says Dr. Kosik. Older adults who had at least ten years of musical experience did better on cognitive tests, according to a 2011 Emory University study.

These fun activities are scientifically proven to rev up your thinking.

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– The Reader’s Digest team