12 Ways to Keep your Mind Sharp

3820642436?profile=originalCross-train your brain
Cross-training simply means doing exercises that alternately work the left (verbal memory and logic) and right (visual memory) sides of the brain, thereby boosting mental agility over time. For a fun cognitive workout, go to our sister site, ellegirl.com, where you can play games like Chinese Checkers, Cubic Rubic and Puzzle Quest for free in the Games section. Or, if you're tech-phobic, test your skill sets with some good old-fashioned crossword puzzles, Sudoku or by challenging friends to a Scrabble match.
Try something new
Neuroscientist Daniel Amen, MD, one of the world's foremost authorities on brain imaging, notes in his book Making A Good Brain Great that the brain is like any other muscle: The more you use it, the more you can use it. In fact, according to Dr. Amen, lack of learning causes the brain's pathways to start disconnecting, so he advises that everyone take 15 minutes out of each day to learn something new. Have you always wanted to learn a foreign language? Take time to master a few words of Spanish each day. Interested in ethnic cooking? Sign up for a course at a local culinary school today.

Get a social life
People who maintain strong connections with friends and family not only live up to 20 percent longer, but are also likelier to retain their memory, abstract thinking and language skills. Make an effort to surround yourself with people who inspire you to be creative and challenge your intellect. Try forming a book club, or take stimulating group trips to museums, lectures and poetry readings.

Hit the sheets
A UCLA study found that decreased estrogen in women is associated with lessened brain activity and poor memory. Engaging in sexual activity at least once a week enhances estrogen levels, thereby improving overall brain function.

Eat right to stay bright
Foods that are rich in antioxidants -- such as berries, dark leafy greens, grapes, carrots, beets and tomatoes -- have been proven to keep your brain in peak working order by preventing cholesterol from lining your arteries and slowing blood flow to the brain. Now there's mounting evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are also essential to good brain health. Says nutrition expert Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, "You should aim for two 6-oz servings of fatty fish, like salmon and light tuna, per week, as well as add walnuts and flaxseed oil to your eating plan to boost omega-3s."

Get to stepping
Engaging in regular exercise keeps not only your body but your mind on the move. "The research on the mental health benefits of exercise is incredibly clear: A daily cardiovascular exercise program helps you feel more lively and alert, and reduces symptoms of stress and anxiety," explains Laurie B. Mintz, PhD, associate professor of educational, school and counseling psychology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. But when it comes to the brain, not all exercise is created equal. In a study conducted by the University of Illinois, results showed that aerobic exercise increased brain volume and white matter (which aids connectivity between brain cells) more than stretching and toning exercises.

Chew gum
It may sound wacky, but according to a new study conducted by the University of Northumbria, chewing gum has a positive effect on thinking, memory and other cognitive functions. Andrew Scholey, PhD, of the university's Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, attributes this effect to a mild increase in heart rate, which results in increased delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain, and thereby improves cognition.

Take a whiff
Japanese researchers have discovered that certain scents can actually make you more productive. In fact, several corporations in Japan now employ aromatherapy as a brain stimulant for their employees. Try sniffing lemon oil for a morning pick-me-up, peppermint oil to ward off drowsiness and lavender oil to keep those mental wheels turning throughout the day.

Change your tack
Forcing yourself to use your nondominant hand expands brain circuits that are connected to that hand, leading to increased mental agility. If you're a lefty, try using your right hand to brush your teeth or stir a pot of food. If you're a righty, use your left hand to wipe down a counter or jot down quick notes. You can also try walking backwards; it's known to help stimulate the brain and, according to some evidence, can actually help it grow in size.

3820642581?profile=originalGet unplugged
Try putting yourself out of touch with the world for at least two hours a day. A study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard found that e-mail and phone call interruptions lead to a loss of concentration and problem-solving skills, causing IQ scores to drop by an average of 10 points.

Drink a spot of tea
Instead of coffee, sip more tea. Peppermint is a proven brain stimulator that promotes concentration, while green and black teas help prevent memory loss. Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, also helps with retrieving information that is stored in the brain.

Have a ball
Practice throwing and catching a ball with a partner. Once you master that, move on to juggling. These types of sensory-guided movements fine-tune the brain's visual, tactile and hand-eye-coordination responses.

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