1. Learn to put the brakes on. In Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, Dr. Paul Hammerness suggests that the ability to exercise “inhibitory control” is one of the keys to harnessing your attention and maintaining focus. People who lack this skill, or who fail to use it, ping-pong from task to task, responding to each distraction without stopping to think and prioritize. Co-author Margaret Moore suggests using the “ABC” approach to learn how to put on the cognitive brakes: Awareness—be aware of the impulse to respond to the distraction; Breathing—take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and reflect; Choosing—consciously choose to resist the impulse in the moment, while promising to give it more attention later.
2. Take six deep breaths. Stress doesn’t just take a toll on your emotions and relationships—even occasional blood pressure spikes when you’re under the gun could increase your risk of strokes, according to The Doctors Five-Minute Health Fixes. One study found that taking six deep breaths in 30 seconds can drop your systolic blood pressure by up to 9.6 mmHg if you have hypertension, and by 6.4 mmHg if you have normal blood pressure. For best results, clear your head this speedy way several times a day, the authors suggest.
3. Stay active, no matter how old you are. Researchers have discovered that having an active lifestyle—going to the theater, gardening, walking, meeting with friends—reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and slows cognitive decline even in people who are in their 80s.
4. Exercise regularly. Not only is exercise a natural mood-lifter, it seems to slow the brain’s physical decay, particularly in the area related to memory and learning.
5. Say “no.” In her book, Courage: Overcoming Fear & Igniting Self-Confidence, life coach Debbie Ford suggests “healing” the people-pleaser in you by saying no to at least three people who request something of you. Saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is an act, she says of fear—fear that you won’t be loved, respected or valued if you disappoint others. Affirming to yourself that it’s safe to say “no” will move you beyond fear and toward self-confidence.
6. Visit the past—briefly. “Ruminating on the past takes away ideas about moving forward,” says psychologist Dr. Sybil Keane, medical expert for JustAnswer.com. “You’re lamenting that your life isn’t good any more, and that’s draining.” She suggests recharging brain and body by setting aside 10 minutes a day to look backward. “Then say, ‘I’m done for today,’ and move on.”
7. Eat breakfast. A balanced breakfast of high-fiber whole grains, fruit, lean protein and low-fat dairy can improve cognitive function—especially memory—and mood in both children and adults.
8. Get your omega-3s. People who consume high levels of these anti-inflammatory fatty acids have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, says Dr. Gary Small, author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. The most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, protects brain neurons against the toxic events associated with amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which accumulate from Alzheimer’s disease. Fish is a great source of omega-3 fat, especially salmon, halibut, light tuna, cod, flounder, sole, sea bass, shrimp, lobster, scallops and crab. Wild fish tends to have more omega-3 fat than farmed fish.
9. See a funny movie. Whether your idea of hilarity is Bridesmaids or Bugs Bunny, find something that makes you laugh—and do it regularly, suggests Sondra Kornblatt in her book, A Better Brain at Any Age. Not only does laughter relieve stress, but it helps to bridge both sides of your brain, sharpening your thinking and improving your memory.
10. Exercise inner peace. Don’t have time to meditate? Sure you do, says Sarah McLean in her book, Soul Centered. She suggests these simple, one-minute exercises when you’re in a stressful situation and need to find calm:
- Close your eyes. Just the simple act of shutting out the world will help you retreat inward.
- Count your breaths. Silently, repeat one on the inhale, two on the exhale, and so on till you reach 10.
- Do a quick body scan. Check in with your body, starting with your head and ending with your feet, relaxing and releasing tension as you go.