As a silver surfer, I was pleased to see that research has found going online can boost your brain power.
I think the amount of problem solving your brain has to do when tracking down information on the net is similar to playing chess or bridge.
In other words, it has your grey matter working overtime.
However, logging on is just one of many things we can all do to help our brains fight ageing.
Although it’s important to realise that a single lifestyle change won’t reverse a lifetime of bad health habits, latest research suggests many factors can play a part in keeping your brain young and alert.
So here’s a guide to what’s well worth a try…
(1) Surf the net
Don’t feel guilty about idle surfing – using the net is a good workout for your brain.
University of California researchers compared the brains of middle-aged people who rarely went online with regular users who were otherwise similar.
After doing web searches for an hour a day for five days, areas of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain which controls the ability to make decisions and learn – was much more active in the net users.
(2) Drink a hot choccie
I enjoy a hot chocolate drink every night before bed, so I’m very glad to know it could help keep my brain alert. Recent research found that flavanols – plant chemicals abundant in dark chocolate – stave off fatigue and boost mental sharpness. It’s thought that they work by widening blood vessels, boosting blood flow to the brain.
The scientists doing the test asked people to do a range of mental arithmetic tests before and after having a flavanolrich chocolate drink and found the drink boosted their performance.
(3) Work up a sweat
This is my favourite brain booster and one I’ve experienced first hand. When I was preparing for a cycle ride a few years ago, about six weeks into hard training I started to notice my memory has improved – it was like being a teenager again! I soon realised this was due to all the extra oxygen being pumped into my brain.
A recent Swedish study backed up my own experience when it found that any exercise that gets you out of breath improves IQ scores in tests. The researchers speculated that the increased flow of oxygen to the brain actually promotes the production of new brain cells.
This is one habit that works for me when I’m travelling – I let my mind become still and settle into a kind of twilight state, similar to that reached by meditation, for a few minutes.
Afterwards my brain feels recharged and so much brighter. Research by the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania has come to a similar conclusion.
The researchers found that people who meditate enjoy improved brain function – including better memories.
In another study, people who meditate performed better than their non-meditating counterparts on a series of mental agility tests.
(5) Stand on your head
Research suggests that this parlour trick may improve your overall brain health by increasing blood flow to the brain. Of course, for those of us without the gymnastic skill to do it safely, there are easier ways to get the same benefits including hanging your head over the sofa for a few minutes, or lying on the floor with your feet up on a wall.
(6) Brush and floss daily
We keep learning more and more about how dental hygiene can affect our whole body, and now a study had found that oral health is linked to brain health.
A team of British researchers found that people with gum disease scored relatively badly on cognitive function tests.
The researchers deduced that the gum inflammation may also be damaging the white matter in the brain, resulting in slower mental function.
(7) Get married
Middle-aged people in a stable relationship are half as likely to develop dementia as those who live alone, according to a study from Sweden.
This link is pretty well established and it’s all down to the constant social interaction married couples enjoy.
Just talking about the shopping or the latest news means we avoid social and intellectual isolation. And of course it means you might indulge in a brain-boosting spot of sex…
(8) Sing a song
The deep breathing needed for singing forces more oxygen into the brain, while memorising lyrics and rhythms gives the brain a thorough workout. Anecdotal studies, supported by UK Alzheimer’s charities, have also found singing to be good at improving communication in dementia patients.
(9) Drink red wine
In mental arithmetic tests set up by a team at Northumbria University, men and women did better after being given resveratrol, the “wonder ingredient” in red wine. It’s thought the plant chemical found in grape skins – as well as most berries – increases blood flow to the brain by widening blood vessels.
Personally, I think a handful of berries on breakfast cereal is the healthiest way to get plenty of this nutrient.
(10) Have an apple a day
Drinking two glasses of apple juice a day could help to keep your brain healthy, according to a study in the Journal Of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Apple juice seems to reduce the amount of a protein that is responsible for forming the sticky plaques commonly found in the brains of dementia patients and thought to impair memory.
(11) Make love
Sex boosts the levels of a brain chemical called prolac tin which appears to help create and nurture new nerve cells in the brain, according to Professor Perry Bartlett of the University Of Queensland’s Brain Institute, Australia.
Here’s yet another reason to keep the home fires burning.
(12) Be a bit different
When I first read that varying everyday activities could keep your brain in good shape, I began to start brushing my teeth using the other hand and reversing the way I hold a phone. Taking a different route to work or simply swapping your knife and fork around can also help. These little changes all force your brain to adapt to new things and create new pathways, which helps keep more brain cells alive.
(13) Wake up and smell the coffee
Three to five cups of coffee a day when you are middle-aged can cut your risk of developing dementia later in life by up to two thirds, a large, 21-year Finnish study revealed when it was published in the Journal Of Alzheimer’s Disease last year.