Almost hidden by all the news about the UK election was a little gem of an article that appeared in the press last week. It was about how to stay young, as you grow older. Some of the tips included learning a new language, playing an instrument, exercising more and learning a new skill, as all these things help stimulate brain cells.
There may be nothing above you have not already heard but it was our story of the morning at BBC Radio Derby. We encouraged listeners to phone in with their own suggestions of how to stay youthful, and from these I devised another list -- my top nine alternative tips to staying young.
Suggestion: Do crosswords or braintraining computer games.
The jury is still out on whether those computer games that claim to train your brain actually work. So, instead, try a crossword puzzle. Many studies suggest crosswords help your brain stay active. They do not have to be cryptic or from The Times. A caller from Derby told us how she had helped improve the mental ability of an elderly lady with Alzheimer's by doing children's crosswords repeatedly with her. After several attempts, the lady began to remember answers and words she had forgotten.
My alternative: Brain aerobics.
Challenging your brain with mind-training exercises can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something as simple as thinking of famous people whose first names begin with the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that get you thinking. Research has even shown that surfing the Internet activates regions in your brain related to decision-making and complex reasoning that may actually help to improve your brainpower.
Suggestion: Learn a new language.
This is not as difficult as you might assume. It really is about having fun while you do it. There are some super and easy courses online aimed at children or young adults. Why not have a go at one of those? I once taught German to curmudgeon accountants by using hand puppets. They quickly picked up the language. If you do not want to learn on your own, sign up for conversation classes local to you. You will soon be enthused.
My alternative: Learn a new word every day.
Learning new words not only enriches one's understanding of the world, but also enhances the brain's language centers and the prefrontal lobes where judgment and executive function are mediated. Make it harder for yourself and learn a new foreign word every day. You never know when you might need the Russian word for 'bird' or Japanese for 'mountain'.
Suggestion: Use your weaker hand.
Try to write, draw and even stir your tea with your non-dominant hand as the unfamiliar situation makes the brain work harder. When you write your name with your weaker hand, it is surprising how much concentration you require. It might even take you back to those days of your youth when you first learned to write. My father-in-law regularly tested out his handwriting with both hands until he could write equally well with either. This might have played a part in him living to almost 100 years.
My alternative: Use all your senses.
The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory. Brain imaging indicates that the piriform cortex, the main odor-processing region of the brain, becomes active when people see objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells are no longer present and the subjects don't try to remember them. So challenge all your senses as you venture into the unfamiliar.
Suggestion: Turn it up.
Create a music playlist and turn up the volume to play it so you really listen to it and not just have it as background noise. This increases feelings of well-being.
My alternative: Sing along to your favorite song.
Singing to your favorite song will not only help your memory as you belt out the lyrics but it has been proven that music you enjoy will activate the brain. Chances are the song you have chosen will remind you of some happy event in the past and will enhance your mood. Be careful with that air guitar though; you don't want to put your back out!
Suggestion: Take up physical activity.
Yes, that old chestnut. We're always being told to exercise, but staying active is equally as good. It's important to stay physically fit. If you feel you can take up an activity such as dancing, walking, swimming or similar, then do so.
My alternative: Be daring.
I've been encouraging folk to try out belly-dancing, Zumba, Pilates, Tai Chi, circle dancing and line dancing -- in fact, anything that tickles your fancy and gets you moving for a bit. Last year, I met a 74-year-old man who had just discovered the joys of climbing trees and then zip-lining down them. Maybe you might like to give that a go yourself?
There are all sorts of exciting activities you could sample, so choose one you've never tried before. More energetic exercise will increase the levels of oxygen in your brain and flowing through your body. In turn, your body will release more endorphins, which will make you feel energized while producing a sense of pleasure and well-being. That's got to be worth a go.
Suggestion: Play games.
Whether it's cards, Trivia Pursuit, Scrabble, Monopoly, chess or backgammon, invite friends over and play a game. You'll use your memory and expand your powers of recall. You'll also test your mathematical skills and logic with some card games. If you are unable to find anyone to play with locally, log on and find a buddy online.
My alternative: Work with your hands.
Whenever you perform an activity requiring finger dexterity you improve your brain. Knitting, sewing, crocheting, model building or taking up a musical instrument will all help. Better still try your hand at juggling. A study in the journal Nature discovered that jugging made certain areas of the brain expand and challenged conventional wisdom that the structure of the brain cannot change except through aging and disease.
Suggestion: Learn to relax.
Take time to refresh and unwind which allows the brain to properly process information it has absorbed. Yoga or meditation can help you with this.
My alternative: Have more sex.
Sex enhances emotional intimacy, relaxes us, decreases stress and makes us feel great. In his book, Real Age, Michael Roizen reported that women who are unsatisfied with the quality or quantity of their sexual relationships have a life expectancy half a year less than is average for their age, while women who are satisfied with both the quality and quantity have a life expectancy one-and-a-half years longer than average. For men, having fewer than five orgasms a year shortens life expectancy by two-and-a-half years, while a man having more than 300 orgasms a year will add three years to his life expectancy.
Suggestion: Cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
Too much tea, coffee or alcohol can be harmful, so swap them for a glass of water.
My alternative: Drink green tea.
Green tea was found to reduce the risk of breast cancer and prevent recurrences, and is currently being tested as a way to help prevent bladder, colorectal and lung cancer recurrence. It has other benefits too, as it appears to boost metabolism and may even help prevent Alzheimer's disease. A Japanese study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that drinking at least one cup of green tea a day could help your brain stay sharp.
Suggestion: Eat a diet rich in Omega oils.
There is little doubt that a diet rich in Omega oils (found in fish and seeds) is beneficial for heart and brain health. Evidence points at many reasons why you should introduce oily fish into your diet and recent studies indicate that Omega oils can help reverse degenerative brain disorders.
My alternative: Eat less food.
Like it or not, research shows that reducing calorie intake has a remarkable effect on the risk of developing diseases and conditions associated with aging -- including diabetes, clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes -- and can also prolong your life. Eat little and often and ensure your diet is low in calories but high in nutrition -- rich in olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, fish and fruit. Try it. You'll be surprised at how little you need to eat and how much fitter you feel in a short period of time.
Pick one of these and try it. If it works for you, then try a second. Little by little, your brain will thank you!"