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Helping Your Brain

Last week, I blogged about forgetfulness. This week, I provide some tips on how to keep your brain healthy. Just because memory decline is natural does not mean we can’t help slow down the process. The brain is like a muscle in that if you don’t use it you lose it. An active brain can grow new cells and work more effectively.

Here are some ways to keep your brain healthy:

  • Be physically active on a daily basis. A combination of stretching, strength training, and aerobic activity is an ideal approach.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. Fruits and vegetables, along with other high-value nutritional foods can provide nourishment for our brains. Do not skip meals.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Manage stress. Meditation and relaxation techniques can help us to think more clearly.
  • Avoid alcohol and other substance use.
  • Get sufficient sleep. The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Breathe. Oxygen is essential to our brains.
  • Stay mentally active.

How do we stay mentally active? Here are some tips:

  • Read more or listen to audio books.
  • Do puzzles and brainteasers.
  • Learn new things, particularly drawing or painting.
  • Go to lectures, plays, museums, or concerts.
  • Cut down or eliminate T.V. watching.
  • Take up a musical instrument.
  • Maintain social and family connections.
  • Study a new language.
  • Find a hobby.
  • Play games.
  • Learn to juggle.
  • Take adult education classes.
  • Learn to dance.
  • Deliberately shake up your routine. Rearrange your furniture, drive a different route to familiar places, or wear your watch on your other wrist.

As for forgetfulness, there are techniques that can be used to help us improve our memory. Libraries usually have books on memory improvement. A few suggestions:

  • Organize yourself.
  • Create habits and routines.
  • Write things down and keep your lists in the same place.
  • Do one task at a time, rather than multi-tasking.
  • Pay attention to what you want to remember.
  • Visualize what you want to recall.
  • Use repetition to fasten something into your memory bank.
  • To remember long lists, create a story or connections between items.

You can use memory devices, also called mnemonics to aid memory. A classic mnemonic is “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles” (the first letter of each word is also the first letter of the planets in our solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth, etc) or “Thirty days has September, April, June, and November. When short February’s done, all the rest have 31” (used to remember how many days are in each month).

Various supplements are being tested for memory enhancement capabilities. Ginkgo biloba, choline, lecithin and vitamins B, C, E are probably the most well-known.  There is still nothing conclusive about choline, lecithin, or vitamins B and C. The research on vitamin E has only been conducted on dementia patients and more research needs to be done before coming to any conclusions. Lemon balm is being researched for a number of properties, including memory enhancement. This herb can be infused as a tea. Steep 3 teaspoons of dried lemon balm leaves in 2 cups of boiled water for about 5 minutes. Strain the leaves out before drinking. Add honey if you like.

There is not much research on Ginkgo biloba, but what does exist is somewhat encouraging. If you want to try Ginkgo biloba, talk to your doctor. A typical adult dosage for memory enhancement is 80 mg 3 times daily of 50:1 standardized leaf extract. Ginkgo seeds are toxic and can be fatal if swallowed. Pregnant and nursing mothers and children should not take ginkgo. Patients with cirrhosis should also refrain from taking herbs. Common adverse reactions to ginkgo are headache, dizziness, flatulence, upset stomach, heart palpitations, rash and allergic reactions. Seizures and bleeding problems have been reported but are rare. Discontinue ginkgo and all supplements a week prior to any medical procedure. The following drug interactions have been noted: Trazodone, Monoamine oxidase inhibitors; Anticoagulants / Antiplatelets; Insulin; Antipsychotics / Prochlorperazine; Cytochrome P450. Gingko may alter coagulation lab tests.

Personally, I don’t find any benefits from supplements. However, exercise, good sleep and a healthy diet help my memory and brain function. I remember more things during my walk than any other time, so if you try walking, take paper and pencil with you. You’ll be surprised what you recall.

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