As the number on the scale creeps upward, it's hard to imagine that anything's getting smaller, but extra pounds can actually shrink your brain. In a 2009 study, brain scans of older adults revealed that overweight individuals had an average of 4 percent less brain tissue than normal-weight folks. And in obese people the loss of tissue was so significant that their brains appeared 16 years older than those of thinner people.
"By eating more calories, you're also consuming more fat," says study author Paul Thompson, PhD, a neurology professor at UCLA School of Medicine. "The fat clogs arteries that feed the brain, which in turn causes brain cells to wither." That loss can impair memory, mood, movement, speech, and more.
Though the first priority is getting down to a healthier weight, you can also focus on strengthening the brain cells you've got. Aerobic activity will not only help you shed pounds but increase the amount of blood, oxygen, and nutrients flowing north to your neurons. And more nourishment means a faster processor.
5. Wiggle your eyes
Can't remember where you stashed your glasses? Try looking from side to side. Rapid horizontal eye movements cause the brain's two hemispheres to interact with each other more efficiently, explains memory researcher Andrew Parker, PhD. In moments of temporary amnesia, that action may help you pull up information.
6. Take a snooze
In a University of California, Berkeley, study, participants improved their scores on a memory test by 10 percent when they repeated the test after catching some z's. (Nonnappers saw a 10 percent decline in their scores the second time they took the quiz.) Here's why: New facts enter your brain like e-mails arriving in your in-box. And as your in-box can overflow over the course of a day, so can your brain. During sleep, your brain shuffles recently received data into storage, creating space for fresh info.
7. Eat brain foods—rich in B12, antioxidants, or essential fatty acid
- Bananas (Get the recipe for Banana Cinnamon Smoothies)
- Kale (Get the recipe for Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale)
- Tomatoes (Get the recipe for Grilled Pizza with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Thyme)
- Blueberries (Get 8 blueberry recipes)
- Swiss cheese (Get the recipe for a classic Muffuletta sandwich)
- Chocolate (Get the recipe for double chocolate loaf and more decadent retro desserts)
- Salmon (Get the recipe for healthy Lemon Salmon with Garlic Spinach)
- Brussels sprouts (Get the recipe for Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Bread Crumbs)
- Apples (Get the recipe for Maine Crab, Green Apple and Avocado Salad with Parmesan Tuiles)
- Olive oil (Get the recipe for Olive Oil Vinaigrette)
- Coffee beans (Get 8 caffeine infused coffee recipes)
- Oranges (Get 8 citrus recipes, from entrées to dessert)
Next: Watch out for these memory stealers