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Top of mind

Far from being an inevitable part of ageing, changes to your brain can be combated with simple lifestyle changes.

Age-related changes to the body are an unavoidable part of life. One of the biggest changes that most people notice is memory decline caused by loss of brain mass. You might not be able to recall the name of a song or forget appointments if you don’t write them down – loss of brain mass is responsible for those frustrating instances where your memory fails you.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to keep your brain in good shape as you age. Incurable, age-related conditions of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often influenced by genetic factors, yet lifestyle changes can reduce the loss of brain mass that occurs with ageing.

Here are some tips for keeping your mind in tip-top shape as you age:


Develop a mastermind

Brain training games that can be accessed on a laptop, desktop or iPad are growing in popularity, yet there are many other simple ways to boost your brain power.

Learning a language, reading widely, writing stories, playing chess, memorising poems, painting landscapes, doing jigsaw puzzles, taking a woodwork course and mastering a new cooking skill are all great ways to keep your mind active as you age.

But turning to your favourite activities repeatedly isn’t as beneficial as pushing yourself to learn something new. Aiming to make your mind work hard by challenging it with new tasks will deliver more brain benefits than sticking to your comfort zone.

If you’re a fan of reading crime novels then perhaps swap your Patricia Cornwell page-turner for a meaty history tome? If you’re fluent in French then try wrapping your tongue around Japanese. Love crosswords? Try a numbers-based game like Sudoku to make your brain work in a new way.


Stay physically active

Engaging in regular physical activity has many benefits beyond keeping your waistline trim. Harvard Medical School reports that exercise increases the birth of new nerve cells in the brain and increases the connections between synapses. With new nerve cells and healthy synapses linked to improved brain function and performance, going for that daily walk or swim is actually doing your brain a world of good.


Stop smoking

Kicking a smoking habit can be tough, but the health benefits on offer are well worth the challenge. Many people know about the negative impact that smoking has on the health of the lungs, heart, teeth and skin (not to mention your wallet) but smoking can also impair brain function. Reducing blood supply to brain cells, every cigarette does damage to your brain. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your risk of having a stroke or experiencing a neurological condition.


Stress less

Whether it’s worrying about your finances or having sleepless nights due to family issues, your brain is negatively impacted by stress. Cortisol levels rise when you’re stressed, and with high levels of cortisol responsible for damaging brain cells and lessening your ability to recall information, chronic stress can have a serious impact on your brain health. Try reducing and alleviating stress by taking up yoga, joining a meditation class or speaking to a counsellor about unresolved issues.


Clean up your diet

Frequent consumption of processed foods and sugary drinks is linked to a raft of health issues including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and dental decay, but a poor diet also impacts on brain function. Several studies have shown that eating a Mediterranean-style diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, eggs, legumes and fish correlates with a lower rate of dementia and other cognitive issues. So do your brain a favour and include more fresh, wholefoods in your diet.