Like the inevitable crow's feet and laughter lines, it's simply a fact of life that as we age, so does our grey matter. This can lead to changes in mental function and memory loss, which is why it's so important to keep our brains working to ward off cognitive decline. Luckily, just as physical activity helps your body stay fit and healthy, there are lots of ways to keep your mind ticking over, too. Here's how...
Head to the gym
Getting your blood pumping will not only benefit your body, but also your mental health. “Exercise affects the brain in lots of positive ways,” says Dr Hilary Jones (drhilaryjones.com). “It increases the brain's oxygen levels and supports the release of hormones that help to create a healthy environment for the growth of brain cells. Boost your activity levels by looking for an exercise that incorporates coordination along with getting your heart rate up, such as a dance class. Or if you prefer the gym, go for a circuits class which will not only give you a good cardiovascular workout but keep your brain processing the next challenge, too.”
Learn a new language
Just because you left school years ago doesn't mean you should ever stop learning! New research from the Université de Montréal in Canada has revealed that being bilingual could help your mind in later life. This is because your brain is able to save power by being more efficient and economical when carrying out tasks, meaning that you're also less likely to be distracted. Want to improve your skills? Try language app Babbel (babbel.com), which offers 13 different tongues in 15 minute online lessons, so it's easy to fit lesrning into your busy day!
Eat a piece of dark chocolate
According to a review by the University of L'Aquila in Italy, regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning, attention, brain processing speed, working memory and vital thinking processes over time. This is all down to the flavanols in cocoa beans, which are natural compounds that boost brain function – stick to dark chocolate rather than sugary milk options, as not only is this a richer source of the nutrient, it's also packed with fibre, iron, manganese, copper, magnesium and antioxidants. If that wasn't enough, eating chocolate after a bad night's sleep can counteract some of the effects of fatigue, too!
Take a nap
Stopping the effects of brain ageing could be as easy as counting sheep. While the concept of a siesta is relatively uncommon here, a short snooze could have serious benefits to your health. A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that those who napped for around an hour after their midday meal had better overall cognition compared to those who didn't snooze. In fact, the difference was so great it was the equivalent to what a five-year increase in age would be expected to cause. Sweet dreams!
Do a crossword
These word puzzles aren't just a hobby to pass the time – they're also a great way to keep your mind agile. A recent study of 50-year-old people by the University of Exeter and King's College London found that participants who regularly completed crosswords performed better on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory. The researchers found that they had brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their real age – is it time to get your thinking cap on?
No longer simply a culinary staple, this fragrant herb could be the solution to keeping your brain young, according to a recent study by Northumbria University. Researchers found that the compound that gives rosemary its distinctive smell aids a chemical which is key to memory. Not only does it boost your long term recollection and your ability to do basic maths, it also improves your prospective memory, which is used to complete plans such as remembering to post a letter. Try diffusing the oil in a room or applying it to your pulse points with a carrier oil such as coconut oil to gain its many benefits.
Our hectic lives mean that it's easy to let weeks, or even months, slip by without seeing our friends, but it turns out that making time to socialise is vital for our mental wellbeing. According to research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, loneliness increases your risk of developing dementia by 65 percent, partly because it causes harmful inflammation to the brain. Shockingly, solitude is actually worse for your health than 15 cigarette a day – so don't feel guilty for taking the time to catch up with your pals, it's essential for your noggin.