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Get in on the act

Get in on the act
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Learning lines for a production or an acting class engages the hippocampus, the temporal cortex and the frontal lobe, says Dr. Kosik. In one study, those who went to acting classes twice a week for four weeks boosted their ability to remember words, numbers and short stories. A follow-up study found they improved word fluency by 12 percent and word recall by 19 percent.

Draw out your neural connections

Draw out your neural connections
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When you draw, paint or sculpt, you have to make spatial calculations and focus attention on details, Dr. Kosik says. Engaging in these activities (even doodling has health benefits!) helps protect octogenarians from mild cognitive impairment, according to a 2015 Mayo Clinic study. Also, 60- and 70-year-old art-class participants boosted scores on psychological resilience tests; MRI images showed their synapses had formed new connections.

MIND your eating habits

MIND your eating habits
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Research from Rush University found that combining the Mediterranean diet and the heart-healthy DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is good for your brain. Adhering to the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), as it’s called, was found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s up to 50 percent. “The food you eat provides the fuel for your brain, and the MIND diet produces the best kind of fuel,” Dr. Chapman says. “It includes such things as whole grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts, fish, berries, olive oil, beans, as well as limited amounts of cheese, wine and dark chocolate.”

Try this delicious Mediterranean seafood salad.

Skip the fat

Skip the fat
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There has been debate over the role of dietary fat in Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Chapman, “Fried foods and foods high in saturated fat should be avoided.” We already know these foods aren’t good for your health in general, so that’s another good reason to give them a pass. A high-fat diet can also cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for diabetes – and diabetes, in turn, is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Although scientists aren’t sure exactly how diabetes and Alzheimer’s are linked, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests diabetes damages blood vessels in the brain, alters brain chemistry, and contributes to inflammation that harms brain cells.

Find out why trans fats are so bad for you that they’ll be banned from all foods by 2023.

Take a probiotic

Take a probiotic
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Scientists are just beginning to understand how the collection of good bacteria in your GI tract, known as the gut microbiome, influences your brain. “Feedback signals from the gut tell the brain about gastric and intestinal motility, gut hormone secretion and gut inflammation,” says Linda Rinaman, PhD, a psychology professor at Florida State University who’s studied the gut-brain connection. Much of the research on the “gut-brain axis” in relation to the development of Alzheimer’s has been observed in rodents. But new studies in humans are also revealing a connection between the type of bacteria in the gut and the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. Although probiotics, which aim to balance your gut bacteria, haven’t yet been proven to protect brain health, it’s may be worth giving them a try – or eating probiotic foods like yogurt or sauerkraut – just in case.

Here are 12 reasons behind why your belly might be bloated.

Get your zzz’s on

Get your zzz’s on
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You know what a bad night’s sleep can do to your focus the next day. Over the years, regular sleep deprivation can raise your risk of dementia, suggests research. “During sleep, your brain literally cleans out some of the toxicity that has built up from stress or agitation,” Dr. Chapman says. “Without good sleep, we see increased anxiety and stress. Sleep is restorative, helping you be more mentally energetic and productive. Even a quick nap helps.” Just keep daytime snoozing to about an hour, as longer than an hour and a half may be detrimental to your noggin, according to some studies.

Here are 25 things you need to know about sleep right now.

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Accentuate the positive

Accentuate the positive
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Doctors have long known there’s a connection between depression and Alzheimer’s; now, research is suggesting that depression is actually a risk factor for the disease. In addition, stress and stress hormones in the brain have also been linked with dementia. On the other hand, research has found that a positive attitude about ageing is actually associated with a lesser chance of developing dementia, even in the presence of other risk factors. If you’re depressed, it’s best to get help now. “Positivity always helps, but it’s just as important to embrace mistakes to learn from them and not be stuck,” Dr. Chapman says.

Be inspired by these 50 great simple pleasures that make life worth living.

Make new friends, and keep old ones

Make new friends, and keep old ones
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Brain researchers have found that socialising and maintaining friendships can protect against cognitive decline. “One of the most powerful things for brain health is relating to others – a shared sense of community is one of the top three factors associated with brain health as we age,” Dr. Chapman says. “Socialisation also requires some of the most complex cognition because it requires us to constantly negotiate an understanding with those around us. For the brain, it’s like constantly solving a puzzle.” It’s not the number of friends you have, she says, but rather the quality and depth of your connections.

According to lifelong friends, these are the 14 secrets to make friendships that endure.

Don’t multitask

Don’t multitask
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Trying to focus on several things at once puts a strain on the brain and studies have shown it negatively impacts memory, especially as we age. “Multitasking is as toxic to the brain as cigarette smoking is to the lungs, but the effects become apparent much more quickly,” Dr. Chapman says. “Multitasking, which is really the brain constantly switching between tasks, decreases memory function and reduces hippocampal size. It fatigues the system and breaks down your immune system.” All of these things combined make avoiding multitasking the number one thing people should do to maintain and enhance their brain health, she says.

Skip sugar

Skip sugar
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Research has found a high-carb diet loaded with added sugars can muddy your thinking and your memory. You don’t have to be diabetic to have high blood sugar level speed your brain’s cognitive decline, find several studies. “Although the brain relies on sugar for its main source of energy, too much sugar flooding into the brain at once from a high-sugar diet can overload the brain and cause negative effects such as lapses in concentration, learning, and even advanced ageing of the cells,” says certified diabetes educator Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “By eating a diet low in added sugars, you can help to prevent spikes in blood glucose levels that may cause these damaging effects while making sure the brain still gets the energy it needs to function at its peak.”

Find out more about why sugar is the new tobacco.

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