When it comes to your brain, stress acts as noise in your system—only it comes in the form of nagging tasks, job dissatisfaction, bills and fights about who's going to which family's house for the holidays. One of the keys to having a healthy mind is to live as much as you can in the moment—that is, thinking about what you're doing right now, not worrying about the mistakes you made yesterday or the headaches that await you tomorrow.
More stress means the inability to concentrate, and that's been shown to contribute to a shrinking of the prefrontal cortex. Is living in the moment hard to do? Of course it can be, but it's a behavior you can learn with practice, similar to our previous strategy of thinking about thinking. Example: When you're playing with your kids and letting tomorrow's work day weigh on you, force yourself to concentrate on Candy Land—making it a great experience for your kids rather than a distant one for you. It takes some time and effort, but in the end, the act of living in the moment rewards not only you, but also the people around you.
Feed on Brain Food
While physics would dictate that your food would travel down after you eat it, a certain amount travels up to your brain (via arteries after it's been through the digestive process, of course). One of the best nutrients to help keep your cerebral power lines strong are omega-3 fatty acids, the kinds of fat found in fish like salmon and mahimahi. These healthy fats, which have been shown to slow cognitive decline in people who are at risk, not only help keep your arteries clear, but also improve the function of your message-sending neurotransmitters. Aim for 13 ounces of fish a week, or if you prefer supplements, take 2 grams of fish oil a day.
Chi-Gong, an activity that looks like slow-mo martial arts, can not only help improve your physical well-being, but it can also serve as a mind-clearing exercise. This slow, gentle series of movements can help reduce the noise (and is especially great if you have aches and pains that hold you back from your normal routine).
Load Up on Salad
With the veggies, not the fat-laden dressing. It's been shown that vegetables—any kind, any place—slow cognitive decline even more than fruits. Eating two or more servings a day (just two!) decreases the decline in thinking by 35 percent over six years. Pass the sprouts, please.
Add a Dash of This and That
Several substances have been shown to help cognitive function. 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 fruits and vegetables.
- Lycopene and quercitin. Good sources include tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, leafy green vegetables, red apples, onions, cranberries and blueberries.
- Resveratrol, found in red wine, although the high doses that have been researched might require too much alcohol, so also 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 overdo it, because chocolate is high in calories).
- Turmeric and curcumin, spices found in Indian and curried foods. Mustard also contains turmeric and can reduce Apo E4 levels.