Your heart keeps you alive, but your brain is running the show – so it’s important that your healthy lifestyle choices include your brain’s needs. Happily, much of what I hope you’re already doing for your heart and overall health is also going to be good for your brain.

Brain basics

As I’ve stressed in previous posts, what you eat is a big part of staying healthy. I’ve include a list in this post of familiar foods that are good for your brain’s health, and for you generally.

Exercise is also important. The aerobic exercise you do for your heart is also good for your brain because your brain relies on oxygen to function well. Exercise gets your blood flowing and the better the blood flow, the more oxygen that gets delivered upstairs.

So keep up the healthy diet and exercise that get your blood pumping and you moving.

Let’s start with food …

Foods that boost brain health

The following list of brain-healthy foods won’t surprise you. We’ve talked about them in previous posts, but these foods are so good for you that they are worth mentioning again. Let’s start with dessert (who wouldn’t want to start there?) and work our way down the usual list of suspects and why they are specifically good for your brain.

Dark chocolate (at least 72% cocoa) contains strong antioxidants in the form of flavonoids which have the ability to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to your brain.  More blood brings oxygen, which is essential for brain function.

In addition to chocolate, enjoy a variety of antioxidant-rich foods. Foods high in antioxidants are generally good for you, but they are particularly good for your brain. Because of its high metabolic activity, your brain uses a lot of oxygen, making it especially susceptible to free radical attack. Unchecked, free radicals cause cell damage and contribute to memory loss. Antioxidants are the clean-up crew for those free radicals.

Therefore, it is best to include a variety of the below antioxidant-rich foods as part of your healthy diet:

  • Fruit, especially berries
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, turnips
  • Avocados and tomatoes
  • Nuts, like walnuts and pecans
  • Green tea, black tea, and coffee

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential for memory and learning and help build nerve and brain cells. And, along with their other health benefits, omega-3s reduce inflammation. Listed below are a few great sources of omega-3 rich foods:

  • Fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies, haddock, halibut, as well as oysters and caviar
  • Nuts — especially walnuts —flax seeds, and soybeans
  • Oils like olive, walnut, and canola

Also, make sure you’re getting enough vitamin E, C, zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper in your diet.

Don’t let your brain languish — stay engaged

Wasn’t there a rumor going around that doing the Sunday crossword would fend off Alzheimer’s? Well, nothing’s that easy, but here are some things that have been found to help maintain and even improve your cognitive abilities, especially as you age.

Learn something new. Learning a language is often touted as a good way to keep your brain engaged. But any new skill you tackle will keep your mind stimulated and engaged. Master a game you haven’t tried before such as Mah Jongg, bridge, or canasta. Solve puzzles (like crosswords or Sudoku), or become very knowledgeable about something that’s always interested you (the cosmos, Greek history, the secret lives of earthworms).

Engage your five senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch) and introduce yourself to your creative side. Take a cooking class in a cuisine you’ve always thought was too complicated; try your hand at painting or sculpture; design and plant an herb garden; draw up plans for your dream house; invent a board game or create a maze; write your own crossword using the names of everyone you love.

Check your attitude. As we age, we tend to slide into believing certain things are just part of getting old. Forgetfulness is a big one. Isn’t it natural to forget where you left your keys? Or the name of that song by that seventies band … wait, what was their name?

That actually does not have to be your norm. Following the activity tips above and eating well will keep your brain healthy and your mind active. You can stay sharp and interested – and interesting.

Brain housekeeping – keep it tidy

Okay, even if you’re doing everything right, it’s still likely you’re going to forget where you left your glasses, or find yourself standing in the middle of a room wondering what you came in there for. That happens to everyone – it doesn’t mean you’re on the road to dementia; it probably means you’ve got too much on your busy mind.

When you were twelve, it was easy to remember every single word your crush said to you in the hall outside class. Back then you had very few other things to worry about besides your math homework. These days, your brain is a warehouse full of memories, details about people you know, tasks you have to do, responsibilities, and dates you need to remember. It can get to be a bit much. Here are a few tips for keeping the less important (but necessary things) organized so your mind is freed up for the bigger stuff:

  • Develop habits that you always stick to for simple things like where you put your keys when you come in the door (e.g., a hook by the garage door).
  • Have a specific place for things and always put them back when you’ve finished using them, even if it means a trip to the other end of the house.
  • When you bring in the mail, immediately separate the junk from the real stuff and get rid of it. That way, it won’t pile up and you won’t miss or forget something important like a tax bill (or refund). And, that pile in your peripheral vision won’t keep tugging at you – most of it will be in the recycling bin.
  • Keep a calendar handy in which you write, without fail, every single appointment or social engagement you have coming up. That way you won’t have to keep reminding yourself to remember. Then make a point of looking at your calendar once a day.
  • When you do make appointments, set reminders in your phone – again, that frees your brain up so you can use it for more interesting things.

These things sound simple, and they are – but they really help with those pesky memory problems that plague us all.

All your parts are important – your heart, bones, skin, organs — so you want to do the kinds of things that keep everything healthy. Your brain, though, is who you are, so it’s especially important to you to feed it right and keep it occupied.

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