April 21, 2013 -- intro: Your brain isn't just for thinking. Throw a football, turn the steering wheel, kiss your girlfriend—your mind controls everything you do, explains David S. Liebeskind, M.D., a Men's Health advisor. That's why it's so important to keep yours healthy.
But how? Scientists are starting to crack the code. Recent research has revealed plenty of measures you can take today to keep your mind sharp as you age.
quicklist: 1 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Eat for Better Brain Function url: text: In a brand new UCLA study, rats completed a maze slower after being fed a high-sugar diet. But adding omega-3 fatty acids protected them from the effects of the sugar. Click here for 13 Brain-Boosting Foods.
quicklist: 2 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Challenge Yourself url: text: "Regular mental challenges force you to think. Use it, or you'll lose it," says Constantine Lyketsos, Ph.D., professor at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. When connections between neurons are reinforced, they're easier to use, says Liebeskind.
quicklist: 3 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Switch Up Your News Source url: text: Slave to the local news every a.m.? You're neglecting an active reading schedule—and a whole part of your brain, says Allen Sills, M.D., associate professor of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt University. When you read, you develop concentration, which is crucial for healthy aging.
quicklist: 4 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Ward off Depression url: text: Mood disorders can be the result of chemical imbalance in the brain, says Sills. If you're no longer interested in things you used to love, ask a buddy if he has noticed a change. If he has, see a doc—losing interest in your hobbies is a major sign of clinical depression. An at-home remedy? Exercise, which helps balance the chemical cocktail. "It's the poor man's Prozac," says Sills. (Follow our 100 Best Fitness Tips to learn how to stick with your workout, build huge muscles, and more!)
quicklist: 5 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Know What's Normal Memory Loss url: text: Systems like the hippocampus—crucial for memory—age faster than other brain parts. Worried? Compare yourself to others your age. "Don't remember where you parked, but everyone else is walking to the car? That may be a problem," says Coslett. But if you—and all of your friends your age—have to write down a phone number, don't worry.
quicklist: 6 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Move to Remember More url: text: A 2011 study found that the striatum, a brain area believed to handle memories, was larger in basketball players than non-athletes. A year of regular aerobic exercise can up the size of an adult's hippocampus by 2 percent, says research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For more ways to remember everything, think faster, and solve problems like a genius, follow these 27 Ways to Power Up Your Brain.
quicklist: 7 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Strength Train url: text: Strength training for 60 minutes, three times a week for 6 months can boost your short and long term memory performance and attention as you age, says a Brazilian study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Focusing on different techniques for different lifts provides a challenge that a repeated exercise (think: running on the treadmill) may not provide, says Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA longevity center and coauthor of The Alzheimer's Prevention Program.
quicklist: 8 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Drink Up url: text: Don't skip your coffee: Caffeine may protect your memory and improve your focus. Just limit yourself to one cup 30 minutes before you need the boost. The effect can linger up to 6 hours, but research suggests that if you up to dosage (four to five cups of joe a day), you could hurt your cognitive performance.
quicklist: 9 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Turn up the Jams url: text: Listening to music at work can lead to enhanced cognitive performance—specifically in your ability to stay alert and focused—according to research in the Journal of Current Direction in Psychological Science. Pro tip: Keep the tunes light—songs with simple structures or a repetitive nature keep you focused on the task at hand. With complex songs, your brain could try and break down rhythms rather than sticking to the task at hand, says Alex Doman, the author of Healing at the Speed of Sound.
quicklist: 10 category: Ways to Sharpen Your Brain title: Chew Gum url: text: Stock up on bubblegum 15 to 20 minutes before a big presentation. A study from St. Lawrence University found that students who chewed gum a few minutes before a test scored better than those who didn't. What gives? The boost in brainpower could come from a neural arousal that chewing can bring about, the researchers say.
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Additional research by Madeline Haller
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