Healthy habits not only make your body younger, they also make your brain healthier, studies suggest. Some easy ways to keep yourself in top-notch mental shape:
Hit the sack
Anyone who’s ever stayed up too late has experienced that next-day fuzziness, when it seems like nothing really registers or is available for recall later. Scientifically, in fact, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Different parts of the brain are responsible for creating different types of memories—a face, a name, or a recollection, explains Gary Richardson, M.D., senior research scientist at the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “Sleep is what helps knit all those memories together.” You also need sleep to make long-term memories last. Studies at Harvard Medical School have found that when people are given a list of words to memorize, those who then sleep will recall more words afterward than those who don’t.
And, bonus tip: sleep quality is just as important as quantity. New research suggests that the more fragmented your night’s rest, the less likely you are to consolidate memories.
Sweat yourself smarter
Evidence that a fit body translates into a fit mind keeps accumulating.
For instance, when researchers at the University of Illinois looked at the brains of 161 adults, ages 59 to 81, they found that the hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to forming memories, was larger in those who were physically active. “Fitness improvement—even if you’ve been sedentary most of your life—leads to an increase in volume of this brain region,” explains study coauthor Art Kramer, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience.
In another of Kramer’s studies, 65 older adults began walking for 10 minutes three times a week. Each week, they increased the length of their walks by five minutes until, at week seven, they reached 40 minutes per session—the duration they stuck with for the remainder of the study. At the end of one year, the walkers had increased brain connectivity and improved scores on cognitive tests. “Just get out and walk for an hour a few days a week,” advises Kramer.
Drop the extra weight
In a French study, those with a high body mass index (BMI) scored lower on memory tests and had bigger mental declines than people with lower BMIs. Johns Hopkins researchers have also found that obesity, especially fat around your middle, can increase your risk of dementia by 80%, on average.
Losing weight seems to be an easy solution to counteract these affects - a combination of a better diet and exercise will do the trick—step up your fiber and water intake and avoid alcohol and bad carbs to feel better and enhance your memory.