Eight ways to sharpen your brain from simple card tricks to clever listening app
KEEPING your brain sharp as you age is vital – and may not be as hard as you think.
Football goalkeepers have been shown to have faster brains than the rest of us, a study showed this week.
They were found to process sights and sounds more quickly than outfield players and the public in general, which improves the reactions vital for someone in their position on the pitch.
Reaction times, or reflexes, decline as a natural part of ageing and bad reaction times have even been linked to an increased risk of early death.
Improving them may lessen the frequency of “senior moments” such as memory blips or falls.
Plus there are a few proven, simple things you can do to keep your brain at peak performance without ever stepping on to a pitch.
Here are a selection many of us could try . . .
HEARING plays a role in our ability to stay mentally sharp.
Losing it has been shown to shrink the brain and can lead to loneliness, a precursor for dementia.
Experts say playing white noise loud enough that you can’t hear the TV, for ten minutes a day, helps.
Andy Shanks, a hearing expert at eargym, said: “Gradually, you should notice that you are able to understand what is being said in the TV show.”
This will help in situations such as chatting in noisy pubs or offices.
PLAYING gin rummy or bridge never gets boring.
And some studies have shown card games can help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment by a fifth.
Mild cognitive impairment causes sufferers to have minor problems in their mental abilities such as memory or thinking above what would be expected for their age.
Dr Yonas Geda, of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said: “There is growing interest in lifestyle factors that may help slow brain ageing.”
GOING on an intensive language course for just one week helps improve concentration levels.
Experts found pupils on a short Scottish Gaelic course saw significant improvements in their ability to switch attention.
Dr Thomas Bak, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Even a short period of intensive language learning can modulate attentional functions.
“Moreover, these short-term effects can be maintained through continuous practice.”
EVERY time we master something new our brains form new connections and strengthen existing pathways.
This is called improving the plasticity of the brain.
Dr John Morri, of the Institute for Aging Research, said: “Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane . . . so you need to build up your reserve.
“Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy.”
THE combination of creativity and exercise is an excellent way of stimulating the mind.
Studies, including researche at Minot State University in North Dakota, found the Latin dance-inspired Zumba workout helps improve visual recognition and decision making.
Dr Lavinia Teixeira-Machado, of Federal University of Sergipe in Brazil, said: “Based on the evidence, dance practice integrates brain areas to improve neuroplasticity.”
Eat it up
SWATHES of studies have shown eating foods rich in antioxidants helps improve and maintain brain performance.
One paper, published in the academic journal Antioxidants, found people who ate more polyphenols, found in fruit and vegetables, had faster thought processing.
Dr Juan Angel Carrillo, of the Universidad Catolica de San Antonio in Spain, said upping antioxidants helped improve memory and attention.
Stub it out
TOBACCO smoke clogs the arteries and reduces how much blood and oxygen get to your grey matter, a type of brain tissue that is crucial for everyday functioning – including memory.
Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Not smoking, or even quitting smoking, is one of the best ways to improve your overall health.
“It has been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia, heart disease and stroke.”
TAKING time to practise mindfulness isn’t just good for mental health, it can increase the size of your brain.
Plus, research has shown it can improve your attention and working memory, as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
One study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews showed meditating each day can increase the volume and density of parts of the brain.
Find a free app or online course to help you start.
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