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The Best Ways to Train Your Brain

By Michele Harris
June 30, 2021
Woman relaxing

Do you avoid red meat to keep your heart healthy, take supplements to support your immune system, and exercise to keep your body strong? That's great! But what are you doing to maintain your brain health?

The brain is the center of everything. As your body’s command center, it regulates organs, stores memories, triggers emotions, and allows you to navigate and interact with the world around you.

In his new book, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age (Simon & Schuster), Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a well-respected neurosurgeon, and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, sheds light on the latest brain research by separating fact from fiction and offering practical guidance on how to optimize brainpower regardless of your age.

As with most healthy habits, Gupta says it’s best to start early—before signs of decline start to appear, but he stresses that taking simple steps at any age can make a noticeable difference in staying sharp.

“Memory problems are not inevitable with age,” says Gupta. “There are things we can do to maintain, enhance, and sharpen our abilities to remember, retain, and retrieve that information as long as we live.”

Food for thought: Diet for brain health

It seems that what’s good for the body is also good for the brain. Many of the same dietary measures taken to promote heart health, lower blood pressure, and stave off blood sugar issues also benefit brain health.

Gupta’s diet recommendations echo the principles of the Mediterranean diet. He recommends eating plenty of fresh vegetables, berries, fish, and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and avocados while avoiding added sugars, salt, and saturated fats.

When it comes to supplements, Gupta says that despite aggressive advertising campaigns promoting supplements made from jellyfish protein, coenzyme Q10, or ginkgo biloba, none of these ingredients have been proven effective for brain health.

Get plenty of the "secret sauce"

While good brain health relies on several factors, Gupta emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining strong social connections; calling those connections “the secret sauce of a long sharp life.”

“A look at the data shows that enjoying close ties to friends and family, as well as participating in meaningful social activities may help keep your mind sharp and your memories strong,” he says.

In the book, Gupta profiles Helen who suffered significant health and cognition decline after the death of her husband. “If her children had not insisted that she move to a retirement community to experience a social network of people and share joint activities, Helen might have continued to deteriorate mentally,” he says.

Gupta spoke with Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development about the importance of socialization. “It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” said Waldinger. 

Challenge the mind and the spirit

Crossword puzzles can be challenging but they won’t improve your brain health.

The same is true for “brain games” marketed as tools to reduce or reverse age-related cognitive decline. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently cracked down on companies making deceptive brain health claims because there is no scientific evidence to support those claims.

Games and puzzles don’t use enough of the brain to impact cognition. To do that, you need to build new neural pathways by learning something new. Learn a language or take music lessons. Give salsa dancing a whirl or unleash your inner Picasso by learning to paint.

“I am more convinced than ever that the brain can be constructively changed—continually enhanced and fine-tuned—no matter what your age or access to resources is,” says Gupta. “When you put your brain first, everything else health-wise will follow.” 

Stay physically and mentally active at an Erickson Senior Living community

At Erickson Senior Living communities, we have health and well-being experts available to offer tips and answer any questions you might have about staying sharp and enjoying life to the fullest. In addition, each of our communities boasts a variety of physically and mentally stimulating activities to keep you living your best life at any age! 

Find an Erickson Senior Living community near you to learn more about your independent living options.