Mind Games that Matter

By: Diane Peters
The Globe and Mail August 12, 2006

Brain Food
The basics
If you eat well, you’re healthier over all – and that includes your brain. “People who have good diets do better on memory tests,” says Kelly Murphy, a psychologist with the Baycrest Memory Intervention Program in Toronto. If you’re living on microwave dinners and rarely veer into the produce aisle, take heed.

The trick
Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables – especially really bright ones such as blueberries, strawberries, spinach and beets – fight cell death in your brain. Foods loaded with B vitamins are also believed to aid memory: they include nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. And a study from the University of Newcastle- upon -Tyne found that both black and green teas fight the enzymes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Mental Aerobics

The Basics
Active people generally have better memories. “Aerobic exercise gives you more oxygen to your brain. You can’t store that oxygen, so you have to do it repeatedly,” says Sheila Smith, an occupational therapist and manager with Capital Health in Edmonton. Being fit also helps you control high cholesterol and blood pressure, two heart-related conditions associated with memory loss.

The trick
A mere walk is better than nothing. But it seems combining aerobic movement and weight training has the maximum effect on the brain. And exercising for more than 30 minutes at a time is also associated with a better memory.

Video Therapy

The basics
Spending time with a joystick in your hand – while long pooh-poohed by parents – does the brain good. New research is finding that games not only improve problem-solving skills, but they exercise certain brain functions such as organizing several different things at once. The fact that video games challenge the brain is one reason they’re so addictive.

The trick
A crop of adults-worried about-their-memories video games are just now hitting the market. Nintendo’s Brain Age and Big Brain Academy get you doing a series of mind-expanding puzzles, then as a reward tell you how young your brain is getting. “One of my clients tried it out, he thought it was fun,” Dr. Murphy says. “I don’t think it’s better than any other activity, but the key is to keep yourself interested and challenged.”

Stimulation Rx

The basics
Doing just about anything stimulating – playing Sudoku, reading, going to the symphony, learning a language, painting, playing bridge – works out your brain and helps your memory. Social interactions do the same thing. The only things that do nothing for your head are watching TV and drinking alone.

The trick
Do anything you choose to stimulate your brain, as long as you enjoy it. And it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been particularly active in the past. “People say, ‘I’m 65 and I haven’t done anything, so it’s too late for me now,’ but that’s not true,” Dr. Murphy says.

Confidence Cures

The basics
“If people believe they can do something about their memory, then voilà, they can,” Ms. Smith says. In fact, a recent study funded by the National Institute on Aging, found that older people who felt in control and believed in memory tricks recalled things better than those with poor memory confidence.

The trick
Tell yourself you can do something about your memory – then stock up on information. Edmonton’s six-week Boost Your Memory course costs just $15. An e-mail based program offered by the School of Phenomenal Memory goes for $110 a session. There’s also a slew of books on memory such as The Better Brain Book and Improving your Memory for Dummies.

More Memory Tricks

Creating a very detailed mental image helps you remember where you put something.

Take the stuff you habitually misplace – keys, glasses, books – find a sensible home for it, and always, always put it back there.

Don’t try to remember phone numbers all at once, or any long string of information. Instead, break it down into pieces and remember those.

When you’re introduced to someone or told something new you have to remember immediately, make an association in your brain. Meet someone named Sherry; think of wine.

When you first hear a name, phone number or important date, review it a few times – then do it again a few minutes later, then an hour later.

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