You walk into a room, scissors in hand, then stop and wonder: What am I doing here?
You call up an old friend to tell her…what were you going to tell her? It was important, whatever it was. Or maybe not.
Where am I going? What was I talking about? We jokingly dismiss these mental lapses as “senior moments,” but the effects can be serious: As we get older, our cognitive function starts to falter, leading to impaired memory, an inability to focus and concentrate, and an overall sense that, darn it, we’re just not as quick as we used to be.
Mental decline is a normal part of aging—over time, circulation to the brain decreases, brain cells burn energy less efficiently, messages between those cells get muddled, and the brain even begins to shrink. It happens to all of us eventually.
Problem is, it’s happening to many of us earlier and earlier, says Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., author of Brain Longevity (Warner Books, 1997) and president/medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation. “Senior moments are now dipping into the 30s and 40s,” says Khalsa. “I attribute it to the stress associated with modern life. Not only are we overstimulated, but the media is usually telling us to be afraid of something, whether it’s terrorism or a health threat. That fear can raise stress and cortisol levels, which leads to memory problems and depression.”
Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to outsmart the stress response and slow the process of cognitive decline—or even reverse it. We spoke to 16 experts from the fields of cognitive health, nutrition, and holistic medicine to bring you 27 of their best tips for staying sharper longer.
Play With Biofeedback
If you want to reduce the stress hormones that can undermine the brain, try a biofeedback game. The one I like best is Journey to the Wild Divine. It’s a fun way to learn how to meditate and counteract stress in a natural way. —Daniel G. Amen, M.D., CEO and medical director of the Amen Clinic brain-imaging centers, and author of Making a Good Brain Great (Three Rivers Press, 2006)
Feed Your Brain
Eating a plant-based diet is essential: Complex carbohydrates fuel the brain and aid in the production of serotonin, a mood-enhancing chemical. Foods that reduce cholesterol levels and improve blood flow—cocoa [or dark chocolate], tea, grape juice, garlic, and onions—are also important. —Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association
Learn New Tricks
When we’re children and our brains are developing, we’re in a constant state of learning; once we’re adults, we tend to coast and draw on skills we’ve already mastered. To keep building brain power, you need to acquire new skills. The two most helpful things: learning a new language or to play an instrument. Both activities involve processing new information and retrieving it quickly—and they require close listening. —Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., Francis A. Sooy Professor, Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco
Acupressure opens energy pathways called meridians, and when they’re flowing, blood circulation increases, which is both healing and nurturing. Find the Gallbladder [GB] 14 points on the forehead over each eye, about one finger width above the eyebrows, directly above the pupils; you’ll feel a slight indentation there. Make a bridge out of the thumb and middle finger of one hand, and gently touch both points. Meanwhile, with your other hand, reach around and stimulate the GB 20 points, also known as the gates of consciousness. They’re just below the base of the skull, on either side of the spine, about two inches apart—you’ll feel a small hollow. Use light pressure in the front and firm pressure in the back. Stimulating these points together is a powerful way to rejuvenate the mind. —Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., founder of the Acupressure Institute, author of Acupressure for Emotional Healing (Bantam, 2004), and creator of acupressure.com