Health, Mind & Body

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Simple ways to maintain your mental acuity

Many people know that a combination of a healthy diet and routine exercise is the best way to maintain their physical health. But what about mental well-being? Memory lapses are often assumed to be an accepted side effect of aging, but such an assumption is incorrect, as there are many steps men and women can take to maintain their mental acuity well into their golden years.

• Find time for cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise can help men and women maintain healthy weights and reduce their risk for potentially deadly ailments like diabetes and heart disease. But cardiovascular exercise also can boost brain power. Cardiovascular exercise pumps oxygen-rich blood to the brain, and that blood contains glucose that can fuel brain cells. Cardiovascular exercise also strengthens blood vessels, which can help prevent potentially devastating diseases, such as stroke, that can have a lasting and negative impact on cognitive function.

• Find time for friends and family. Many people need no reason to socialize, but those that do can now cite boosting brain function as a great reason to get together with family and friends. Routine socialization can keep a brain sharp by reducing its levels of cortisol, a potentially destructive hormone brought on by stress. Researchers also believe that routine interaction with other people stimulates structures in the brain's frontal lobe that are likely responsible for planning, decision making and response control.

• Squeeze in a nap every so often. Naps can have a reenergizing effect on men and women, but a study from German researchers also found that naps also can improve memory. In the study, researchers divided participants into three groups: people who would stay awake for 60 minutes; people who would sleep for six minutes; and people who would sleep for 30 to 45 minutes. After the hour was up, participants were given a word recall test, and those who slept performed better on the test than those who hadn't. But the development that was perhaps most interesting was that those who slept for just six minutes performed just as well on the test as those who slept for far longer, leading researchers to suggest that men and women need not take long naps to improve their memories.

• Include fish in your diet. A study from researchers at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center found that people who eat fish once per week have a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those who do not include fish in their weekly diets. Researchers credit this lower risk to DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in both the brain and in fish such as salmon and tuna.