Surprising ways you can blitz brain fog and sharpen your mind

Lifestyle /

Next time you find your car keys in the refrigerator, call your kid by your dog’s name, or — perhaps even more unforgivable — forget your wedding anniversary, don’t blame yourself, blame your brain. 

Dr Marc Milstein wants you to know these things — and the countless other memory slips that happen to us everyday — are totally normal. “But if they’re happening at a point where they’re getting worse or they’re increasing in frequency, don’t ignore it.”

Milstein, who has PhD in biological chemistry, has just written a book called “The Age Proof Brain: New Strategies To Improve Memory, Protect Immunity & Fight Off Dementia” which will make you look at your brain in an entirely new way — and treat its health as seriously as fitness or healthy eating. 

“Your brain is made up of 80 billion brain cells, and in between those brain cells are 100 trillion connections which are how you think, how you move, your dreams, your hopes. As we get older, we can lose some of those connections,” he explains. “So we should be taking action to preserve them, to put in more connections and keep them strong.”

One thing that causes brain fog is brain trash.

You must remember this: Walking regularly improves memory, with one study finding that 30 minutes a day lowered the risk of dementia by approximately 65%.
You must remember this: Walking regularly improves memory, with one study finding that 30 minutes a day lowered the risk of dementia by approximately 65%.

“Those 80 billion brain cells are like 80 billion little factories — they’re working throughout the day, making new connections,” says Milstein. “And just like any factory, there’s garbage that needs to be cleared away. It’s the same with our brains. But as we get older, the ability to do that can be not as effective or not as efficient, so trash builds up and it becomes hard to find things or to focus.” 

But if you think sharpening your mind is just about doing crossword puzzles and eating more oily fish, you’ll be disappointed (they’re only part of what you need to do). To really get results, says Milstein, you need to look after everything from the neck down: your heart, your gut, the whole 360. “What we’re realizing is that the brain is connected to all these other parts of the body.”

He points to the rates of Alzheimer’s, up by 144% in the last 30 years. Scientists are discovering that there are strong links to underlying conditions such as issues with heart disease and poor gut health. 

So if a body and brain are intertwined, what are the things you can do?

For optimum health, avoid ultra-processed ingredients and excess sugar and salt.

 “Sleep is a big one. It will help wash that brain trash out,” advises Milstein. To combat our 24/7 world of phones, screens and light pollution in bedrooms, you need to make sure your ‘brain clock’ is in sync — these twenty thousand cells set your body rhythm, including helping you fall asleep at night. Like a timer, it starts counting down as soon as you wake up in the morning — but only works if you get outside in natural light and take a walk round the block (simply standing by a window isn’t enough). 

It’s also important to manage stress. “While it can be good for us in bursts, we want to be careful of too much, too often.” The secret, he says, is mindfulness. “A lot of our stress and worry is our minds wandering, or we’re thinking about the past or future. But studies have shown that if people are focused on what they’re doing in the moment, they tend to be happier.” Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated; it could be something as simple as focussing on washing the dishes. 

The importance of sleep can’t be overstated, says Milstein. “It will help wash that brain trash out,” he advises.

Another factor is exercise — particularly walking, which is shown to improve memory. A study at Cardiff University in the UK followed thousands of people for over thirty years and found that simply walking thirty minutes a day lowered the risk of dementia by about 65%. 

Eating for your brain helps, too. There’s no special regime you should follow, simply opt for a healthy diet filled with meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables and whole grains. There is strong evidence that eating fish about twice a week is beneficial to brain and heart health too. It can be difficult to remember a long list of ingredients, but you’re on the right track if your shopping cart contains some or any of these big five: fatty fish (eg. salmon); avocados; nuts; blueberries and green veggies (especially broccoli).

Avoid ultra-processed ingredients and excess sugar and salt which cause inflammation in the gut which can spread to the brain. “Think of inflammation like a fire. You don’t want your gut on fire and you don’t want that fire spreading to your brain because it can damage healthy brain cells.” 

If your shopping cart contains avocados (among other healthy foods), you’re on the right track.

And finally, don’t be too hard on your brain. With life so busy, we’re like computer screens which freeze when there are hundreds of tabs open. Give it a chance to catch up. If you’re not keen on taking naps, close your eyes — studies have shown that people lessen their risk of burnout that way.

It also likes to filter things out and is programmed to remember things that are funny, scary or emotional. “It’s also not very good at remembering your passwords. So don’t feel bad if you’re always hitting password reset!” 

Your memory is split into two main parts — short- and long term memory. Short term memory only holds new information in your brain for about seven to twenty seconds — explaining all those times you’ve gone into a room and forgotten what you’ve come for. By repeating the information, you are telling your brain that it is important enough to move from a short-term memory to a long-term memory. “Another simple tip if you want to remember something is to just focus, slow down and try to do one thing at a time for a few extra seconds. People are often surprised how much more they remember that way.”

There is strong evidence that eating fish about twice a week is beneficial to brain and heart health.

Your brain also stores the same memory in different parts of the brain — “like a squirrel hiding nuts” — so another tip is to verbalize something you want to remember. “Say it out loud and you have two memories: one associated with speech and the other associated with hearing what you just said. The more places you store it, the more likely you are to remember it.” To get your brain fighting fit, Milstein advises you cross-train your brain: “Just like you wouldn’t go to the gym and work out one part of your body, it’s good to work out different parts.” Set aside some time each week to learn something new — a foreign language, a musical instrument, something that’s really challenging to your brain. “The newness is what’s really important because you’re making new connections.” The next day, do something physical. Or grab coffee with a friend: “Socialization is learning.” 

With this in mind, Milstein has devised a seven-day brain-boosting challenge, below. The emphasis is on simplicity. “I don’t want to tell people to do things that are really hard to do. It’s about how we can do things that are easy and good for our brain. I think that’s a message that I want to get out there.”

If you like broccoli, good news — green veggies like these are great for your brain.

The age-proof brain seven-day challenge

7 a.m. Wake up!

7:15 a.m. Get outside

7:30 a.m. Breakfast: Bananas and almond butter, by itself or on top of whole-grain bread for a brain supercharge. If you need more calories, try a hard-boiled egg and Greek yogurt with berries.

8 a.m. Time to head to work. Use your commute as learning time; listen to an informative podcast or audiobook.

9 a.m. Workday start

Noon Lunch: Wraps—take a whole grain tortilla and load it with leafy green, steamed veggies, beans, and/or lean protein like tuna, salmon, tofu, or chicken.

12:45 p.m. 10 minute after-lunch walk

3:30 p.m. Brain-healthy snack: Hummus and veggies

5 p.m. Reconnecting commute. Call a friend or relative you like to talk to.

6 p.m. 30-minute evening workout

6:45 p.m. Dinner: Frittata filled with a combination of broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, roasted red pepper, and cherry tomatoes. Try feta or mozzarella mixed in as well. A side dish can be a simple salad or whole wheat roll.

7:45 p.m. 10-minute after-dinner walk

9:30 p.m. Device shut-off time. Try a little mindfulness before bed.

10:30 p.m. Time for bed

Today’s tip: To get in the habit of going on that morning walk, put your walking shoes somewhere you will see them to remind you. Whether it’s solo time or social is up to you; both have brain health benefits. Ask yourself what you need that day and take that time to get it.

*Excerpted with permission by BenBella Books, from Marc Milstein’s “The Age-Proof Brain

The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Off Dementia by Marc Milstein PhD
The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Off Dementia by Marc Milstein PhD

How old is your brain?

While nothing is as effective as a brain scan, for a quick check ask yourself these questions:

B: ‘How’s my Balance?’ As we get older, your balance tends to worsen which can be bad for brain health. Be on top of it through exercise.

R: ‘How’s my Recall?’ How good are you at recalling information? Maybe it’s time to sign up for a trivia night!

A: ’Ability’ to get through the day. Is your memory seriously impacting your day-to-day life? If so, get checked out by a doctor.

I: ‘Intensity of walking’ Walking has been shown to lower the risk of memory loss and dementia. Picking up your pace is even more beneficial. 

N ‘What’s my Number?’ Ie, how old do you feel? Studies show that people who have a positive attitude towards aging have almost a 50% lower chance of developing dementia or memory loss. 

Source link