Last month, we looked at food choices that would feed your brain to help you stay mentally fit. This month, let’s focus on activities to help keep your brain functioning well.
Challenging yourself intellectually will help you stay mentally active. Following your usual routine allows your brain to coast, running on autopilot. However, encountering new experiences and processing new data force your brain to create new neural pathways. Changing habits will keep your brain active.
Even these simple changes can make a difference. In your downtime between loads, challenge your mind with puzzles, such as crosswords, word searches, and/or Sudoku. When heading home, take a different route. For everyday tasks like brushing your teeth, use your non-dominant hand. Select a thought-provoking book.
Review the section of a newspaper you usually avoid. Study a second language. Learn to play an instrument. Join a community organization. Volunteer for a cause.
Spend time online. Make Google your friend. Although many feel the Internet negatively affects intelligence, searching the Web is similar to a brain-training course, according to the director of the UCLA Memory & Aging Center, the author of iBrain, neuroscientist Gary Small.
When his researchers used MRI to measure the brain activity in Web users between the ages of 55 to 76, they discovered that net-savvy users showed twice as much brain activity, especially regarding decision making.
Since your senses can also impact your ability to remember, when trying to remember a particular incident, consciously use all your senses. Memory data is processed and stored in different areas of your brain, so using a variety of senses can help you take a mental “snapshot” to recall later. Noticing all the sensory details, such as colours, smells, tastes, textures and sounds will help remind you of the experience.
However, when learning something new, apply your full attention to the new information. Avoid multi-tasking. If, for example, you’re getting directions to a new drop site while listening to the radio, your ability to remember details may be tied to the particular song playing at the time you received directions. Since it’s unlikely the same song will be playing when you try to recall these directions, your ability to remember details may be reduced.
According to British research, when trying to remember vital information, it helps to scan your eyes from side to side for 30 seconds. This eye movement seems to connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, allowing memories to be more easily connected and retrieved.
Remembering information is less complicated when order is maintained. Simplify and reduce distractions by decreasing clutter and keeping organized records. Use a notebook, electronic planner, or calendar to stay on top of your schedule and load details. Keep information fresh in your memory by saying the details out loud as you enter them into your planner. Check items off, once they’ve been completed.
Your memory can also be affected by the amount and quality of your sleep. Seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night is optimal to allow your brain enough rest and time to sort, consolidate and store memories. However, even a short six-minute daytime nap can improve your short-term recall and a 90-minute nap can help consolidate even long-term memories. To avoid sleep apnea from negatively impacting your memory, follow your doctor’s recommended treatment.
Making lifestyle changes can help improve your memory. Increased physical activity will improve blood flow to your brain. Every healthy adult should participate in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (like a brisk walk), or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (like jogging) every week. Spreading the activity out over the week is most beneficial, so even if you don’t have the time (or energy) for a full work-out, you could still meet this recommendation every day by taking a few 15-minute walks, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and/or parking at the far edge of the parking lot.
Reduced food intake may also improve brain function. In a recent study, a group of healthy volunteers around 60 years of age scored 20% higher on memory tests after reducing their daily caloric intake by 30% over 12 weeks. A decreased level of insulin, created when the body processes food, and a reduction in the inflammation-associated molecule C-reactive protein were linked to the improved memory function.
People who followed a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, legumes, fish, and monounsaturated oils (like olive oil) but low in fat, beef, and dairy, had the lowest risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.
Driving truck offers the opportunity to maintain an active mind – if the people you meet are engaging and stimulating, if you make decisions and encounter new experiences regularly, if you regularly exercise problem-solving skills, and if you manage your eating and sleeping habits.
Commit it to your memory.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.