Simple Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp

by Jo Macdonald

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that some things just take a bit longer to learn these days than they used to. I've been known to blame my 'mum brain' and age on occasions but perhaps there is another reason - my phone and laptop.

Various studies now show that our use of smartphones and computer technology has significantly affected our attention spans, decreasing our ability to focus and remember things – to be honest I'm not suprised, I often tell my children things only to find they have forgotten every word in seconds...in fact my husband may be suffering from this affliction too. 

Whilst any study is of course open to a certain amount of interpretation (and I still think that 3 children have damaged my mind way more than technology) there is no doubt that, smartphones or not, as we get older we can all find that our recall is slower, concentration decreases and our minds begin to falter a little…or even a lot.  

So what exactly can we do to keep our minds sharp after 40?

  1. Use technology less - our reliance on Google to answer simple questions, autocorect to sort our spelling, our phones to remember contact details and Facebook to remind us of birthdays, means that our brains no longer have to work to retain information and solve problems in the same way.  Plus, the constant switching between apps and indulging in multitasking may be making us feel efficient but it's actually negatively impacting our cognitive ability. Have digital detox days,  reduce the number of hours on your phone on other days, use less apps, and learn phone numbers off by heart again -sarting with your own! 
  2. Eat the right food - certain foods have been shown to aid our brains and boost our memories, such as: wholegrains (e.g. brown & granary bread; brown pasta etc.) as they release energy slowly so keep you mentally alert for longer; oily fish, such as Mackerel, Trout, Salmon and Kippers, which are excellent for brain function and may even help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s; and blueberries which have been shown to help prevent short-term memory loss so are a definite winner in the brain game stakes.
  3. Increase your Vitamins – it's no secret that Vitamins help keep us healthy but they're also important for keeping our minds sharp and active. Vitamins B6 (Sunflower seeds, Pistachio nuts, cooked tuna, salmon), B12 (Oysters, Liver, Smoked Salmon, Mackerel) and folic acid (Broccoli, Spinach, Kale, Romaine Lettuce) are thought to improve brain function as are vitamins C (red & green Bell Peppers, Kiwi fruit, Kale, Broccoli, Strawberries) and K (Broccoli, Spinach, Kale, Spring Onions), so increase these in your diet.
  4. Exercise – exercise is not only good for the body it also keeps the brain healthy. Just 20 minutes a day can make a difference and aerobic exercise is particularly good for increasing mental sharpness  - so head out for a walk or run, turn up the tunes and get dancing, or go all 80's and dig out that giant plastic step for a bit of step-aerobics.
  5. Keep Learning – it's so easy as we get older to remain in our comfort zone and get stuck in a cosy routine. However, our brain is a muscle and needs exercising to keep in top shape. Take up a new hobby; learn a language; take an educational course; learn a new skill; or read books that challenge you. Whatever you choose your brain will thank you later.
  6. Have fun with it – My Grandmother used to do a Crossword and Sudoku puzzle every day and rarely missed an episode of Countdown. Her brain was as fast and sharp as ever when she passed away at 93.  So dive into some scrabble, play chess, backgammon or (my favourite) Bananagrams, or follow my Grandmother's example and enjoy a bit of Countdown and a Crossword daily.  Whatever you choose make it a part of your daily routine whether it's a word game, number game or logic puzzle, it'll make you think and keep that brain working hard and fast.