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An ongoing series of informational entries

10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Boost Your Brain Health

February 14, 2018

Brain health is today's hottest topic. Here are the top 10 things everyone should know about improving brain health- they might just surprise you!

1. Take a Walk. Getting off the couch and onto your feet is the best thing you can do for your brain! Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise (the kind where you can keep up but can't keep up a conversation) boosts daily intellectual performance and significantly lowers the risk for dementia. Even walking at a vigorous pace at least 30 minutes a day 5-6 times a week will do the trick.
 


2. Lose that Spare Tire. Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight with a low ratio of "belly fat" can significantly lower the risk for a memory disorder. Stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet, maintain an appropriate weight, and balance your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Want to go that extra step? Try adding foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants to your diet, such as fish and berries, as some studies suggest these may lower dementia risk. 
 


3. Follow Doctor's Orders. Staying on top of your medical care is key in addressing issues that affect memory. Managing chronic conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, can significantly reduce the risk for stroke and dementia. Also, taking care of medical issues such as hearing or vision loss can have tremendous impacts in your ability to learn new information, such as names. Find out if your medications may be making it harder for you to remember. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you might have.
 


4. Get Your Zzzzz's. Lifestyle choices we make daily, such as how much sleep we get, how stressed we feel, to what risks we take (such as whether we use a helmet when we ride a bike or ski) impact our daily memory performance and brain health. Emotional distress - anxiety, feeling blue - also can lower our everyday ability and may even increase the risk for memory impairment. Get a good night's sleep, avoid risky behaviors, and don't ignore emotional upsets. 
 


5. Play PacMan. As we age, we experience changes in our everyday intellectual skills. Those changes commonly affect our ability to stay focused, think quickly, multitask, and learn new information (after all, learning new things require the previous three skills!). Want to stay sharp no matter what your age? Play games against the clock. Timed activities force you to pay attention, work fast, and think nimbly - you can't beat the clock without doing so! 
 


6. Learn How to Remember. While things such as timed brain games or eating a brain healthy diet certainly support better memory, you might need a bit of a boost when it comes to remembering things such as passwords, directions and - everyone's favorite - names! Learn strategies to enhance your daily recall, such as making a connection between something you are learning (like the name "Florence") and something you already know (such as the actress Florence Henderson). And don't forget date books and "to-do" lists as these "memory tools" are essential for keeping track of the things you have to do but that aren't worth memorizing.
 


7. Get Schooled. Staying intellectually engaged can significantly lower risks for memory impairment, in some cases by as much as 63%! Such challenges encourage brain plasticity and may offer protection against deterioration over time. Intellectual engagement offers opportunities to socialize and supports emotional well-being. Look for activities out of your comfort zone - if you like to read, try a pottery class. Also, look for little ways to "change up" your brain's routine, such as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or taking a new route to work.
 


8. Go Out with the Gang. Staying social has been shown to potentially cut your risk for memory impairment in half. That's a pretty powerful reason to get away from the TV and go outdoors! Social situations offer great challenges for everyday thinking. Keeping up a conversation forces you to stay focused, think fast and be nimble with our neurons. Look for ways to get out informally with friends, as well as other ways to engage through your community or other resources. 
 


9. Get a Job. Working or volunteering can improve your daily intellectual performance. You get a good brain workout on the job, which offers you the chance to engage both mentally and socially. What you may not know is that more complex work settings, such as those that require you to supervise others, have been associated with a reduced risk for dementia later in life. Working or volunteering might give you a sense of purpose, which researchers at Rush Medical Center in Chicago recently found may also protect from memory impairment.
 


Perfect the Power of Positive Thinking. If you want to remember more effectively, believe that you can! Self-perception can impact performance. If a baseball player thinks he'll never hit it a home run, chances are he never will. Similarly, if you are convinced your memory is lousy, it probably will be! Studies have shown that memory self-belief impacts how well you do on tests of memory ability. What you think about yourself can make a difference to how motivated you are to even try to remember something! Practice the power of positive thinking and believe in your memory.


Article by Dr. Cynthia Green, PhD and founder of Total Brain Health





Multitasking ‘Switch’ Doesn’t Work as Efficiently in Some of Our Brains


Younger brains seem more able to switch gears to recover from an interruption to original task



Warning: Don't let anyone interrupt you while you're reading this. Not if you want to remember it.

As some of us get older, our brains aren't wired as well to handle interruptions with ease.

That's one of the intriguing findings of a study that examines how well the brains of different age groups remember and switch back and forth among neural networks when multitasking.

Working memory holds information in the mind for brief intervals, an ability essential to mental functioning. The research reveals that younger brains switch very quickly between two different neurological networks - one encodes short-term memory, while the other is activated when we need to pay attention to something new.

For older brains, the switch is harder.

The findings, published in 2011 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have some important implications in a world where multitasking is seen as an essential skill.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used sophisticated brain-imaging techniques to uncover why the brain responds differently to multitasking - or remembering to complete a task - after a distraction. And they found that something more fundamental than just memory is involved: The brains of aging adults are far less adept at switching between the two neural networks, one for memory and another for attention to the interruption.

Using magnetic resonance imaging to track blood flow, researchers asked two groups - one whose average age was 24 and another whose ages averaged 69 - to briefly view a nature scene. When a face suddenly popped up, the subjects were asked to determine the age and gender of the face, and then asked to recall the original nature scene.

The brain scans showed that the memory-encoding networks of the younger group fired up again right after the unexpected distraction, quickly refocusing on the nature scene. The brains of the older adults proved more rigid, failing to disengage from the interruption and reestablish the neural connections needed to switch back to focusing on the original memory.

"This study provides the first understanding of the neural brain mechanisms responsible for multitasking and memory in older adults," says the study's senior author, Adam Gazzaley, director of the university's Neuroscience Imaging Center. The research also shows that working memory is very fragile, he says. "Over the course of seconds, one interruption erases memory quality."

The research provides a "biological window" into some of the "inefficiencies" of the aging brain, says Ronald C. Petersen, a neurologist and director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Based on this research, Gazzaley's lab has developed brain-training software that helps older adults better cope with interruptions. - Loren Stein





THE POWER OF SOCIAL-BASED BRAIN TRAINING



TBH Toolkits stand apart by bringing the proven power of group-based training and hands-on learning to cognitive fitness training.

Social engagement offers opportunities to challenge intellectual skills that decline with age, such as sustained attention, speed of processing, cognitive flexibility, memory, executive control

Higher levels of social integration associated with significantly reduced risk for memory loss and cognitive decline

Increased brain volume (Mortimer et al. 2012)

Buffers emotional distress factors associated with decreased intellectual performance

Cognitive self-efficacy outcomes significantly higher in group training settings

Reduced risk for loneliness, isolation associated with increased dementia risk

Greater opportunity for peer support and peer leadership



ADDITIONAL SCHOLARLY ARTICLES and SUPPORTING CITATIONS

Changes In Brain Volume And Cognition In A Randomized Trial Of Exercise And Social Interaction In A Community-Based Sample Of Non-Demented Chinese Elders

J Alzheimers Dis 2012

CONCLUSION:

“Compared to the No Intervention group, significant increases in brain volume were seen in the Tai Chi and Social Intervention groups.”

Cognitive Benefits of Online Social Networking for Healthy Older Adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2016

CONCLUSION:

“The Facebook group showed a significant increase in a composite measure of updating, an executive function factor associated with complex working memory tasks, compared to no significant change in the control groups.“

The Need For A Social Revolution In Residential Care

J Aging Stud 2015

CONCLUSION:

“Research suggests, however, that programs fostering engagement and peer support provide opportunities for residents to be socially productive and to develop a valued social identity.”

Maintaining Older Brain Functionality: A Targeted Review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2015

CONCLUSION:

“The majority of memory interventions were conducted in a group setting… .increased benefit with more strategies learned.”

2016 AARP Social Engagement and Brain Health Survey

AARP Research Feb 2017

CONCLUSION:

“Adults who are dissatisfied with their level of social engagement are significantly more likely to report a decrease in their cognitive functioning in the previous five years” and “40+ adults with larger social networks self-rate their brain health higher”