All your brain wants is attention. Feed it, challenge it, care for it. One of the key things to do? Constantly stretch your mind with crosswords, chess, Scrabble or learning to speak Chinese. Here are our favorite ways to keep your brain operating at maximum power.Teach a LessonTeaching can save your brain. You’re far more likely to retain info if you have to explain it to someone else. The degree to which you can effectively explain info indicates how well you’ve learned it. The lesson: Take advantage of mentoring opportunities. This can be instructing your favorite hobby at the local college, or inviting neighborhood teens over to teach them to make a soufflé or change a tire. By teaching the next generation, you’ll power up your own generator.Be a Lifelong LearnerIn a study of nuns and Alzeheimer’s disease, the nuns who fared best were better educated. Those nuns who developed Alzeheimer’s were less physically and mentally active outside their jobs in their youth. Although the neurological tangles may be genetic, your ability to resist the effects is not.When you increase learning, you decrease the risk of developing memory-related problems. You have to push yourself to learn tasks that may not come naturally, through a new hobby, game or vocation. Performing tough tasks reinforces the neural connections that are important to preserve memory. Your mind has a way of rising to the occasion. Challenge it, and it will reward you.MORE: Brain Foods to Fight Alzeheimer’sStop and Think About ThinkingLike breathing, thinking is designed to be an automatic process. Thinking is an involuntary reflex. While you can often control what you think about, thinking is as natural as an ocean—stuff just floats and goes where it wants.Try this when you’re doing a simple activity like waking up: Instead of rolling out of bed, splashing water on your face and dreading your morning meeting, think of your surroundings. Listen for birds, notice the drips of water streaming down your leg as you shower, savor the sips of OJ, think of every tooth you’re brushing. It doesn’t take more time; it just helps train your brain. Thinking about the thought process is really about awareness and is one of the tools you can use to strengthen your neural connections.See If Your Genes FitIf you have a family history of memory-related problems, and are comfortable with genetic testing, you can have your Apo E4 protein level checked. That’ll help you determine whether you’re more or less predisposed to clearing that gunky beta-amyloid from your neural wiring. No matter what your result, alcohol intake and obesity can increase expression of the gene, while exercise decreases the amount of Apo E4 in the blood. Live in the MomentWe know what life’s like when the dog’s barking, the baby’s crying, Nickelodeon’s on full volume, your spouse is talking to you and the phone’s ringing. When it comes to your brain, stress is a massive amount of noise in your system. It comes in the form of job dissatisfaction, nagging tasks, bills and fights about where you’re spending the holidays. Oy.One of the keys to a healthy mind is to live as much as you can in the moment. Think about what you’re doing now, not worrying about the mistakes you made yesterday, and the headaches you may have tomorrow. This actually helps reduce noise in the system.Evolutionarily, you see how it works. When you’re aroused by stress (saber-tooth coming for you), you have a really narrow cognitive ability: run or fight. Good for survival, but this acute function shortens the telomeres on your chromosomes and contributes to memory problems. In the modern age, more stress means the inability to concentrate. That’s been correlated with a shrinking prefrontal cortex.Living in the moment is a behavior you can learn with practice. Example: When you’re playing with your kids, force yourself to focus on Candyland, making it an experience for your kids, rather than a distant one for you (thinking about tomorrow’s workday). It takes some effort and time. In the end, living in the moment rewards you and the people around you.WATCH VIDEO:Feed on Brain FoodA certain amount of food travels up your brain, via arteries, after it’s been through the digestive process. Among the best nutrients to keep your cerebral power lines strong: omega-3 fatty acids. This is the kind of fat in fish like mahi-mahi and salmon. These fats have been shown to slow cognitive decline in people who are at risk. They also help keep your arteries clear and improve the function of your message-sending neurotransmitters. Try 13 ounces of fish per week. If you prefer supplements, take two grams of fish oil a day (metabolically distilled). You can also use DHA from algae (where fish get their omega-3s). Or simply, an ounce of walnuts a day. DHA is the omega-3 that seems best for the brain.QUIZ: What is your eating style?Try ChiChi-gong is an activity that looks like slo-mo martial arts. It not only improves your physical wellbeing, but can serve as a mind-clearing exercise. This gentle, slow series of movements can reduce the noise and is great if you have pains and aches that hold you back from your routine.Load Up on SaladThe veggies—not the fat-laden dressing. Any kind of vegetables can slow cognitive decline, even more than fruits. Eating two plus servings a day (yes, just two!) decreases the decline in thinking by 35 percent over six years. Pass the sprouts, please. Add a Dash of This and ThatSeveral substances have been shown to help cognitive functioning. These are the ones we recommend:
- Carotenoids and flavonoids, which are vitamin-like substances that can act as antioxidants. Not essential for life, they tend to give color to vegetables and fruits.
- Lycopene and quercetin. Good sources include pink grapefruit, watermelon, tomatoes, leafy green veggies, red apples, onions, blueberries and cranberries.
- Resveratrol is found in red wine. High doses might require too much alcohol (180 bottles!), so consider a high-dose purified product as a supplement.
- A variety of flavonoids found in dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent pure cocoa (just don’t overdue it).
- Curcumin and turmeric, spice found in curried and Indian foods. Mustard also contains turmeric and can reduce Apo E4 levels.