Practical ways to stay mentally sharp
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read the news. Keeping up with the latest not only activates the memory part of the brain but also gives you something to talk about with friends and family. That kind of socializing can activate multiple parts of your brain and encourage cell growth.
Savor a sensory experience. Those with the best memories take advantage of all their senses. That's because memorization is a cohesive brain effort. So head to the garden or the kitchen and take in the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and sensations.
Quick temper? Instead of yelling, take a few minutes to cool down. The stress of chronic anger can actually shrink the memory centers in the brain. Get to know the signs that you’re seething and address the problem before it erupts.
Switch hands. It may be uncomfortable, but writing with your non-dominant hand or operating a computer mouse with that hand can activate parts of the brain that aren't easily triggered otherwise. Anything that requires the brain to pay close attention to a formerly automatic behavior will stimulate brain-cell growth.
Shake your body. Gentle bouncing of your knees and shaking out of your limbs reduces the brain-sapping stress hormone cortisol, research shows. It also triggers relaxation and alertness that keeps your brain sharp. Do it for a few minutes in the morning and at night.