Expert Brain Health Tips

Keeping your body’s command center in peak condition is important—it can prevent memory loss and protect against mental decline. Follow these brain health tips to stay sharp.

| January 2015

  • Get regular exercise to help improve memory and boost creativity.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • This science-backed guide by Michael S. Sweeney and Cynthia R. Green lays out simple ways to stay sharp, improve memory and boost creativity.
    Cover courtesy National Geographic Society

Learn how brain-boosting activities can help stop the effects of aging, prevent memory loss and protect against mental decline in Your Best Brain Ever: A Complete Guide & Workout (National Geographic Society, 2014) by Michael S. Sweeney and Cynthia R. Green. In this excerpt, from "Sustain Your Brain,” Sweeney lays out some easy-to-follow brain health tips.

Your brain’s health may be the most powerful indicator of how long you will live. It is crucial to know whether that life will be rich and satisfying from youth well into old age, or something substantially less rewarding, and for less time.

A car driven wisely, fueled with high-quality gasoline, given regular oil changes, and repaired with new parts as old ones wear out is likely to last longer than one that’s abused or neglected. Likewise, the easiest way to have a healthy brain in middle age and beyond is to start with one as a youth and to follow good physical and mental habits. Exercise it. Feed it. Challenge it. Then enjoy the rewards.

But what of the person who comes late to repairs, like the owner of a car that rusts for years on blocks or runs too long on dirty oil? The car owner can always swap out the engine. You, on the other hand, have only one brain, basically composed of the same neurons you were born with, plus a few added to some narrowly specific areas. Once they’ve begun to deteriorate, can they be saved—or even made stronger?

Brain researcher Marian Diamond is certain they can.

In the 1960s, Diamond compared two groups of lab rats. The first group was confined to the equivalent of a gray isolation cell in a maximum-security prison. They ate simple rations to keep them alive from day to day, but their brains received little stimulation. No rat games, no rat puzzles, no rat get-togethers to break the boredom. She enrolled the second group in a version of rat school, complete with recess. They had toys and balls for play, challenging mazes to explore, exercise equipment to get blood pumping to their muscles and their neurons, and best of all, other rats to share their experiences. When she pitted the two in timed contests in which they ran the same mazes, the rats that had lived in the mentally and physically invigorating environment performed much better.

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