Your blood feeds your brain nutrients. No nutrients, no brain. No brain, no Super Bowl party this year. So one of your big goals should be to keep your arteries clear and flowing. Reducing high blood pressure to normal improves cognitive function and slows Alzheimer's progression substantially. If you have a diastolic blood pressure of more than 90 (that's the bottom number), then you have a five-times greater risk of getting dementia two decades down the line than if it's below 90.
If you have elevated blood pressure, it may be because your arteries are constricted, often as a result of cholesterol plaques, and limiting the amount of blood and nutrients that reach a particular area. In the case of the brain, not having sufficient blood supplied to that watershed area between the two main arteries is what elevates the risk of stroke.
Consider Your Hormonal Options
Early research on menopausal women showed that boosting estrogen levels delays Alzheimer's. Newer research is less clear, so we don't believe that's reason enough to start taking estrogen. But if you're considering taking it for other reasons, it could be one additional positive factor.
Get in the Game
Our suggestion for a brain-boosting workout: Once or twice a week, choose an exercise that requires not only your body to work, but also your mind, such as Bikram yoga or a game of singles tennis. The sports or exercises that engage you in the moment can really help clear your mind at the same time. You don't need to overdo it. Just 30 minutes of walking a day plus our YOU2 Workout a couple times a week will help you burn 2,000 to 3,500 calories a week—the amount shown to increase telomere length.
Detox Your Life
If you're experiencing memory problems that are causing you alarm, eliminate some key chemicals from your lifestyle first, before adding anything new. That includes such things as artificial foods (like sweeteners), MSG, and even shampoo (better to make sure the inside of your head is clean, isn't it?).
Finally, despite their life-saving benefits, statin drugs can uncommonly cause reversible memory loss, a discussion that you should pursue with your doctor if you are more concerned about your memory than your heart. Surprising tidbit: Even over-the-counter cold and allergy medications can contribute to memory problems; in fact, injecting lab animals with the active ingredient in Benadryl (diphen hydramine) is a research model for memory loss that immediately simulates Alzheimer's.
Learn to Tell a Joke
There's lots of evidence that a good laugh can help improve your immune system, and humor can also have a valuable effect on your memory. Humor requires what the laugh doctors call conceptual blending—that is, the ability to relate the expected to the unexpected; we laugh when something surprising happens. Having a sense of humor is a sign of intelligence. Telling a joke, like being a teacher, is another way to challenge your brain. You have to be able to play mental hopscotch from one word to another to make sure that the story, joke, riddle, or pun combines a set of expected circumstances and unexpected ones (i.e., what happens once the guy walks into the bar?). And ultimately, if you tell it right, you have to have a fair amount of social intelligence as well—the ability to maximize the tension and mystery of the joke until the very last second.
Map Your Mind
One way to strengthen your mind is by flexing parts that you don't use often—like perhaps those associated with imagination. So try this trick from our friend Tony Buzan, next time you're feeling overwhelmed with a task. Map out your to-do list, rather than actually listing it. That is, draw a picture of your issue in the middle of a piece of paper, then branch out from that centerpiece with smaller subsections and keywords related to that issue.
For example, if you want to lose 25 pounds, draw a picture of yourself on a scale in the middle. Instead of making a list of how to do it, draw lines from the center with subcategories of things like food, exercise, pitfalls, supports, and other broad categories that will help you. Then branch out from there with subcategories (food may include such branches as "Eat breakfast," "Eat five small meals a day," and "No more doughnuts"). Why is this helpful? For one thing, starting in the center gives your brain freedom to spread out in different directions; for another, a picture flexes your imagination muscles and also keeps you focused and able to concentrate better. And the branches work because your brain works by association—connect the branches, and you will understand, remember, and act on the problem much more easily.
This article is part of Oprah.com's 2011 Feel Good Challenge. Join now—and move closer to the life you want!
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