Do These 3 Things Every Day To Shave Years off Your Brain’s Age and Gain More Mental Clarity
They're so easy, you'll want to do them.
We all want to keep our brain strong. From the MRI to the EKG, you’re familiar with high-tech health diagnostics, but what if you could gauge the fitness of your “crowning” organ (your brain!) with free, low-tech, DIY tests? Turns out you can. Recent studies have found that the ability to perform several simple functions requiring varying degrees of balance, strength, and multitasking could help assess how healthy your brain is — and you can perform all of the functions (and test yourself) in your own home.
“These tests open a window to your brain, says neuroscience expert Patrick K. Porter, PhD, inventor of BrainTap, a brain fitness app. “That’s important because it gives you the ability to do something now if you find anything that might need to be addressed.” Check out these easy tests — and the simple daily activities that can help you master them.
Stand on one foot.
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the ability to stand on one foot for 10 seconds might predict better brain and physical health as we age. “Sensorimotor rhythm brain waves activate the hippocampus, which coordinates cognition and balance, but these brain waves get weaker as we get older,” explains Porter. To strengthen your sensorimotor rhythms, try standing and balancing on one leg with your other foot pressed against your knee while you brush your teeth. Afterward, relax for 10 minutes, suggests Porter. “If you get moving right away, your brain won’t have a chance to assimilate the neural changes.” In other words, taking a break gives your neurons a chance to soak up the brain benefits of the balancing act.
Mentally multitask on your walk.
Walking may seem basic, but the coordination required is deceptively complex. In a study in Cerebral Cortex, young adults viewed a slideshow twice: Once while sitting, and once while walking on a treadmill. Both times, they were instructed to press a button when the image in the slideshow changed. The researchers found that walking made the task easier for some participants, and not harder, indicating increased mental flexibility. Measuring their brain activity during these tasks gave valuable information to researchers about how brains age, especially in cases of neurodegenerative disease.
“When we engage in dual tasks, it’s like a cardiac stress test for the brain,” says neurologist Lisa Shulman, MD, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She explains that while we lose brain volume each year, we don’t have to lose mental capacity. Indeed, if we give ourselves a nudge, like counting backwards while walking, we can keep our brain multitasking, potentially increasing its flexibility.
Squeeze a stress ball.
We’ve all stared down a stubborn jar of peanut butter that won’t open until we grip it with Herculean effort. Turns out, winning that duel is associated with aging well. A new study in Neurology shows that good grip strength is linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. In the study, hand-grip strength was tied to a greater ability to solve problems. In fact, simple strength training exercises have far-ranging benefits for our physical and mental well-being, notes Porter. “Just squeeze a rubber stress ball 20 to 25 times in each hand while you’re watching a half-hour TV show to improve your grip strength and cognition.”
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.