Six ways to keep your mind sharp

Just like working a muscle in your body, the mind can be trained to work faster, smarter and harder. Here are some fun and easy ways - backed by science - to keep your mind active.

1. Salsa, salsa, salsa!
We all love a boogie every now and then, but did you know that dancing improves both brain and motor function? In one study examining the role of dance on cognitive ability, researchers found that people who have a history of dancing (16 years or more) have better reaction times, steadiness, posture and balance compared to those who have never danced. But even if it’s been years since you last went dancing it’s not too late to start seeing benefits. Other studies have shown that people who take up dancing for just six months can improve attention, memory and verbal fluency—that is, the ability to process and produce words.
Try this: For a dance-inspired workout, try Zumba, a fitness dance program set to a high-energy Latin beat. For group and couples dances classes, enquire at your local community college. Or try Tai Chi, group exercise classes (especially set to music), or simply play your favourite tunes on your iPod next time you go for a walk or light jog.

2. Get nutty
Nuts are more than just a great protein source. In a study involving more than 7,000 people aged 55-80 years, researchers showed that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet with 30g of mixed nuts per day had improved memory and cognitive function. Consultant dietitian, Dr Kellie Bilinski, says mixed nuts are an ideal source of protein and Omega-3, which is important for brain health. “Almonds and walnuts are ideal, but it’s important to eat nuts as part of a balanced diet,” says Dr Bilinski.

Try this: the recommended serving is 30g of nuts, which is around 10 walnuts or almonds, every other day. Dr Bilinski advises to opt for mixed nuts, as each will have varying amounts of Omega-3 and fat content.

3. Eat fish twice weekly
Regular consumption of fish has long been proven to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, but it can also slow down the effects of age-related cognitive decline. Dr Bilinski says fish has an anti-inflammatory effect that is linked to improved brain health. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, adults should aim to consume 2-2.5 serves of protein per day, which may include fish every other day.

Try this: For heart and brain health, try to eat fish, especially salmon or trout, 2-3 times per week. Don’t eat fish? Then try sprinkling a tablespoon of linseed on your salads, breakfast cereals, or look for cereals that include this supplement.

4. Play trivia
Novel activities like playing trivia or board games are not only simple and fun ways to flex your brain muscles, but they promote the use of executive function skills, which are the mental processes that allow us to focus attention, recall instructions and multi-task successfully. In one study published in the journal Neurology, scientists found that people who play board games, for example, had a lower risk of cognitive impairment. While another study – a meta-analysis published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews – discovered that group activities, as opposed to those performed in individual settings, were more likely to boost memory and subjective cognitive performance.

Try this: Grab a few mates and head to your local pub for Trivia Night! Prefer to stay in? Challenge friends and family to a round of scrabble, chess or Trivial Pursuit. Or why not try downloading some multi-player games, like Words with Friends, to play next time you’re with the kids or grandkids?

Do you prefer technology on the go? Then clikc here to read our feature on brain training games and apps will give you some great ideas.

5. Learn a new skill
“When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone,” says research scientist, Denise Park. His findings published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that people who learned a high-level skill, such as photography, for a continuous period displayed better cognitive functioning compared to those who took up less demanding or familiar skills, such as listening to classical music. But this doesn’t mean everyday activities like reading and writing should be overlooked. In fact, recent research published in the journal Neurology found that bookworms are better at preserving memory across their lifetime and can reduce the rate of cognitive decline by 32 per cent.

Try this: It’s never too late to master a new skill. Flex your brain muscles by learning a new language, practicing your favourite instrument or taking up a photography class. Investigate Open Colleges Australia or SEEK Learning for TAFE courses in your area.

6. Stay active
After a few weeks of regular physical activity, new cells and blood vessels in the brain start to grow, and inflammation and insulin resistance are reduced. As a result our ability to think, move and retain memory is greatly improved. And according to a group of Canadian research scientists, regular aerobic workouts are more effective in boosting verbal memory and learning than strength, resistance or balance training, While no one knows exactly which aerobic exercise yields the greatest results, experts at Harvard Medical School say walking or any other form of workout that gets your heart pumping is the best way to nourish your body and mind.

Try this: Incorporate at least half an hour of moderate intensity exercise, such as a brisk walking, swimming, stair climbing or dancing, most days of the week.

What are your favourite ways to keep your mind active? Join the conversation below…