Your doctor may talk about ways to improve cognitive function, which really means making your brain work better. Cognition has to do with the brain functions involved in receiving, storing, processing and using the information it receives. In other words, that’s known as thinking and remembering.
We all worry a little about losing our minds as we begin to age. It starts with not being able to remember little things like people’s names or what we need to pick up at the store. If you think you might be losing your mind or just want to maintain the one you have, we’ve got some ideas that may help.
How to Help Improve Cognitive Function
Do Crossword Puzzles
A large-scale study found that the more frequently people do word puzzles like crosswords, the better their brain function in later life. In fact, when tested according to the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning and memory, it was shown that those who do frequent word puzzles may have brain function the equivalent someone ten years younger than them.
Eat Your Greens
Adding more green leafy vegetables to your diet can help your mind stay sharp. Spinach, kale, collard greens and mustard greens are all high in vitamin K, folate, lutein and beta-carotene, which may be responsible for preserving cognitive function. When researchers studied aging adults over a number of years, they found that those who consumed more green leafy vegetables had substantially slower cognitive decline.
Learn Something New
Did you know that learning a new, mentally demanding skill can improve cognitive function? Maybe it’s time to pick up a second language, learn how to knit or take that bartending course after all.
In chocolate and wine, that is. (You’re welcome.) It turns out that each of these items contains high levels of flavonoids. People who consume lots of flavonoids have a lower incidence of dementia. And in a recent study, participants who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly fewer incidences of poor cognitive performance than those who did not.
It’s vital to continue to exercise as we age, and that includes exercises that increase muscle strength, because greater muscle strength is associated with better cognitive function. It’s time to work those biceps, triceps, delts and lats.
Work it Out
Aerobic exercise leads to a remarkable change in the brain too. People with mild cognitive impairment who exercise regularly can have an increase in brain volume in most gray matter regions of the brain, including the temporal lobe, which supports short-term memory. They can experience substantial improvement in executive function after just six months of regular aerobic exercise.
Fall in Love with Blueberries
In the study by the University of Exeter, healthy people aged 65-77 who drank concentrated blueberry juice every day showed improvements in cognitive function, blood flow to the brain and activation of the brain while carrying out cognitive tests. Like the wine, chocolate and tea we mentioned earlier, blueberries are also rich in flavonoids, and have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Drink Lots of Tea, Especially Green Tea
Like the chocolate, wine and leafy greens, tea also contains high levels of flavonoids.
If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, you may want to hit the tea leaves, STAT. Regular tea drinking has shown to lower the risk of cognitive decline by as much as 50%, while Alzheimer’s disease gene carriers show cognitive impairment risk lowered by as much as 86%.
Other studies show that green tea extract enhances cognitive functions, especially working memory. MRI exams given to people after consuming green tea extract showed better connectivity between the areas of the brain associated with better task performance and information retention.
Meditating can change your brain. In a recent study, people who practice meditation showed a significant improvement in critical cognitive skills, including the ability to focus and retain information.
Those who practice mindfulness meditation performed even better, showing an increased ability to sustain attention. Mindfulness meditation is a practice of releasing sensory events that might distract from meditation, whether it is one’s own thoughts or external noise.
Have a Cuppa Joe
Higher caffeine consumption is associated with slower cognitive degeneration associated with aging, as well as the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine may work to normalize brain function and protect it against decline.
Eat More Fish
Especially fish like salmon. Or, if salmon isn’t your thing, you can take fish oil supplements. It’s totally up to you, as long as you consume those Omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows positive associations between fish oil supplements and cognitive functioning. In fact, higher fish oil use is associated with less brain shrinkage – and nobody wants a shrinking brain.
Your workplace could be harming your brain. People who work in well-ventilated offices, and offices with lower levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide score higher on cognitive functioning tests than those who work in more typical indoor office settings. Improving the air quality in your office could better your cognitive abilities (as well as those of your coworkers). So let the fresh air in, use an air purifier or get some live plants. Better yet, be sure to spend more time outdoors!
No matter what motivates you to keep your mind sharp, these 12 simple changes can help you do it!
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