Diet & Nutrition

Natural brain boosters

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Forgot your PIN? Entered a room, only to realise you have no idea what you went in there for? The scariest thing about lapses like these is that they start happening long before you're due for senior-citizen discounts.
The good news is that even if your memory is dodgy, you can strengthen it in the same way you tone your body — by doing a daily work-out.
Physical and mental jogging goes well together, according to a study from the University of Kentucky in the United States. Researchers administered memory tests to adults, then put one-third of them on a low-key exercise program consisting of a short daily walk. After just two weeks, the exercisers tested between 15 and 30 percent higher on recall and information processing.
"Exercise increases oxygen and sugar available to the brain, which produces new brain cells and repairs fraying myelin (the fatty sheath that protects nerve cells)," study director Dr Kathleen Blomquist said.
Here are five fun exercises to help boost your brain power, before you even think about getting physical as well:
  1. Item recall. List 10 items you might pick up at a supermarket. Study the list for five minutes. Put it aside and see how many items you can remember immediately, then how many items you can recall in 30 minutes. Three items is the average, but you should be able to work up to 10 in a week.
  2. Name sequence. Have someone read you a list of five first and last names. Concentrate on absorbing them. Have the first names read back to you, out of sequence. How many matching last names can you recall? The average is two. You should be able to increase your total to five with daily practise.
  3. Number association. Numbers are an abstract concept; so you need a mental "hook" to hang them on. By giving each number a sound and visual representation (eg: one=gun, two=shoe, three=knee, etc), you create a picture that comes readily to mind. Practise number and picture linking, then test your recall of the missing number while reviewing the images.
  4. Phone recall. Make a list of imaginary (or real) long-distance or mobile telephone numbers, then (using a disconnected phone!), practise dialling them in sequence, without referring to the list. Most of us have trouble recalling numbers of nine digits or more; again, this ability should start to improve after a week's daily practise.
  5. Faces and names. To make a name meaningful, pick a person's outstanding feature and attach a mental image to it (eg: the name "Fleming" might bring "flaming" to mind; and if the man you're talking to has a moustache, you might link the two for recall as "flaming moustache"). Using the name during the initial encounter, as soon and as often as you can, and using it again when saying goodbye helps to reinforce recall.
To further preserve your brain: Eat wholefoods with less starch and sugar (even slightly elevated blood-sugar levels can damage the brain); take at least 1000mg of fish oil or flaxseed oil daily (a source of omega-3 fatty acids which reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease). Try herbal mind-enhancers like ginkgo, which improves blood supply to the brain, and gotu kola, a neural tonic that builds mental stamina.
Learn to meditate (ongoing stress results in a continuous supply of cortisol, which interferes with short- and long-term memory retrieval). And keep your brain active with stimulating activities like reading or doing craft; one study found that recreational pursuits like these halved the risk of developing memory loss.
Your say: Do you find yourself forgetting things easily? What are your natural brain boosters? Share with us below...

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