[Editor's Note: Our Guest blogger is Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, a medical editor for WebMD. She has many years of experience in the practice of both inpatient and outpatient internal medicine, and has served as a medical educator in the fields of general internal medicine, palliative care, and medical ethics.]
“Are you really expecting me to memorize this complicated jazz piano standard with complex chord progressions?” That was my first thought recently when my piano teacher asked me to memorize the piano piece I was practicing.
We all have those everyday experiences where we need our minds to be in tip-top form. Situations such as performing from memory, studying for a test, giving a presentation, or having an important conversation call for our minds to be alert and focused.
For a sharp mind you need to maintain brain health. Keeping your mind in shape is much like keeping your physical body in shape. A healthy diet, exercise, and keeping the mind engaged in lifelong learning all help to keep your brain youthful and active.
Food for Thought and Exercise
Optimizing nutrition is important in maintaining brain power. In particular, some studies have shown that foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables may be beneficial in preventing the onset of dementia. Following the Mediterranean diet has been shown to have many health benefits, among which is a decrease in the risk of dementia. This diet focuses on eating a high amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, cereals, fish, and olive oil, and a low amount of red meat.
Performing regular physical exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. The 2008 Physical Activity Guideline for Americans from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends a general exercise goal of 2 ½ hours a week of moderate intensity exercise such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes 5 days a week or alternatively 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic type exercise. Muscle-strengthening exercises that involve all muscle groups are recommended two or more days a week.
Challenging your brain to learn new things and keeping your mind engaged may also help to maintain mental sharpness. Reading, doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, learning a new language and learning to play a musical instrument are just a few examples of how to keep your mind active.
Rest and Relaxation
Sleeping well is another key to keeping your mind alert and attentive. The National Sleep Foundation states that the optimal amount of sleep for an adult is 7 – 9 hours a day. Some tips for good sleep hygiene include setting up a routine sleep and wake-up time, exercising daily – but not right before going to bed, and limiting caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.