Mental Health

10 Ways to Keep Your Brain in Top Shape

By Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2003.

1. If you’re over 60, take supplementary vitamin B12. One in five people over 60 and two in five over 80 can’t absorb B12 properly from food. Since the vitamin is necessary for proper neurologic operation, including the functioning of neurons in the brain needed for memory, it’s best to play it safe. Even people who can’t absorb B12 from food can absorb it from

2. Get regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. Moderately vigorous physical activity increases blood flow, including blood flow to the brain. And since blood carries oxygen, that means increasing the oxygen supply to the brain as well — crucial for high-level brain activity.

3. Play mind games with yourself. It’s well-known that people who have achieved higher levels of schooling and climbed higher on the ladder at work have a reduced risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

4. Control your blood pressure. One in four American adults has high blood pressure, a documented risk for heart disease. An accumulating body of evidence is now coming to light that high blood pressure also takes its toll on mental functioning.

5. Remain — or become — socially engaged. Socializing is one of the best mental workouts going. Sharing yourself with others always comes with the potential for a good brain “buzz” of mental stimulation, which “lights up” pathways between neurons.

6. Reduce stress/anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you’re distracted. And it’s common sense that when you’re distracted, it’s harder to remember things — even things you know well. It’s also harder to acquire information you may want to remember later on.

7. Get enough sleep. Research has indicated that insomnia makes people 65 and older much more likely to suffer from significant cognitive decline. But even losing an hour or two a night of necessary sleep on a regular basis can impair brain function.

8. Treat depression. Sometimes depression looks like a cognitive deficit because the bad feelings can crowd out recall ability, judgement and the focusing power necessary to learn new things. When depression is treated, memory improves.

9. Stay on top of your medication protocol. It’s not uncommon for people in their 60s and older to take three, four or more prescription drugs daily. Many medications can cause memory problems, more so when they interact with one another.

10. Get help for pain. The connection between physical pain and the inability to focus or remember things is obvious. Be sure to report physical pain to your doctor to see what can be done for relief. Keep in mind, too, that plain old lifestyle measures can often help diminish pain.