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Tips and Exercises to Activate the Brain and Help Maintain Memory

We all fear how aging can deteriorate the mental faculties, and Hispanics especially dread it. According to the American Alzheimer's Association, our community is at high risk of developing this disease as well as other types of mental deterioration. It is estimated that by 2050, the number of Hispanics with Alzheimer's may reach 1.3 million or more people, six times higher than today’s statistics (1).Why is this happening, and how can we help the brain maintain an active memory?

Risk factors

The risk factors that Hispanics face for vascular diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, can also affect the brain, deteriorate memory, and progenerate issues like Alzheimer's and dementia. Every day, there is new evidence linking diabetes, a vascular risk factor, to Alzheimer’s and stroke. (2)

The pandemic factor

Prolonged and constant stress for over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on our bodies as well as our brains. Many people are experiencing:

  • Small mental lapses or memory loss that lasts anywhere from seconds to days. For example, they may forget commonly used words, names, activities, etc.

  • Temporary confusion.

  • Irritability, uncontrolled emotions, and even aggressivity.

  • Depression.

Anxiety and panic attacks.

This doesn’t mean we are ‘going crazy’ or losing our mind. We are simply suffering from the effects of prolonged stress. Add to that the combination of eating and sleeping poorly and weight gain, and suddenly there are risk factors for the brain that can make things go from bad to worse.

How to keep the brain healthy

  • Improve your eating habits and take steps to control risk factors such as weight, sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

  • Daily cardiovascular exercise provides ample oxygen to the brain. If you are not a fan of heavy cardio, try walking.

  • Above all else, training the brain:

    • Keeps the mind active.

    • Exercises our logic.

    • Improves memory.

    • Increases learning.

    • Helps relax the mind.

Below are some mental exercises to try.

Short-term memory tests:

Place an image in front of you, such as a landscape, photo, or painting. Choose an image with a lot of visual information like different colors, shapes, letters, etc. Stare at the image for 15 seconds. Close your eyes and try to recall 5 elements from that image. Cognition involves several interrelated mental processes and it has been proven that memory performance can be improved with exercises or activities relating shapes and colors. (3)

Remember a route.

Do you remember when your parents showed you the way home from school? Try to remember a route to an everyday place and draw it. It can be the path from your house to your favorite supermarket, gym, park, work, etc. Mentally recall the main streets on this route, the number of blocks on the way, and some landmarks that you see, such as a church or gas station, a particular tree, etc. This exercise helps more as we age, since visual memory is linked to the mind's activation and proper functioning. (4)

Play Sudoku and complete crossword puzzles.

The game of sudoku, originally from Japan, helps keep the mind active using logic, improving memory, increasing learning capacity, and helping to relax. It seems simple enough but requires concentration and analyzation to locate the missing numbers without repeating them in the boxes, which stimulates the neural circuits (5). Research shows that these types of games collaborate in slowing down memory deterioration, especially during old age. (6)

Practice basic arithmetic.

Do small exercises like simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication, just as you did in elementary school. The key here is to do perform them from memory, without the help of your fingers or any calculators. Try recalling phone numbers as well. The use of smart phones is taking away our collective ability to retain numbers in memory. Write down the main phone numbers you use (your children’s, your partner’s, or your closes friend’s) on a piece of paper and try to memorize them. (7)

Nourish the brain

You don't need to experience mental gaps or problems to support the brain with proper nourishment so it can continue to properly function. Below are some suggestions.

  • Omega 3: Fatty acids that keep brain tissue strong and help neural connections function properly. A study on 30-day fatty acid supplementation showed how it significantly improved mental capacity and stimulated the brain. (8)

  • Ashwagandha: A pilot study on this herb showed that 8 weeks of consumption helped manage stress and may improve memory and cognitive function of mildly impaired adults. Ashwagandha can also improve executive function, attention, and the speed with which information is processed and analyzed. (9)

  • Turmeric: This root helps prevent neurological deterioration due to its ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and fight inflammation. Curcumin, the main ingredient in turmeric, has already been used to treat dementia, traumatic brain injuries, and to aid in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits. (10)

Now that you know, get active and nourish that brain! Let’s stay healthier and more aware, together.

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