When it comes to your brain: Use it or lose it

If the brain works like a muscle, then consider these guys jocks. (AP)

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Those little memory lapses, like forgetting names or losing keys, are aggravating for some people and worrisome for others.

But there is a way to fight back.

“It is pretty clear that memory loss is something you can do a lot about,” says Dr. Neal Barnard, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

Think of your brain like you think of your heart — a vital muscle that needs nutrition, rest and, perhaps most of all, exercise.

“In the same way that you can keep a healthy heart, you can keep strong bones, you can keep a strong brain as well,” says Barnard.

Experts agree that sleep is essential, and that not getting enough shut-eye can do damage to memory functions. Barnard says it is during the various phases of sleep that the brain integrates all the memories made over the course of a day.

“If you are awake during those times, your brain can’t do the remembering, and you are going to have trouble keeping track of all of those things,” he says.

He says a heart-healthy diet that keeps cholesterol in check also benefits the brain. And while some researchers say omega-3 fatty acids can help, Barnard says most supplements are not effective for the brain. The one exception he cites is the use of certain B vitamins for people with too much of the amino acid homocysteine in their blood.

Barnard, who is also president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says exercise is key for both the body and the brain.

He says physical exercise gets blood and oxygen flowing to the brain. But equally as important is keeping the brain stimulated.

“People who have higher levels of education, people who speak more than one language, people who do the crossword puzzles or do the newspapers, their brains tend to age much more slowly,” he says.

Barnard says it just goes to prove that when it comes to brain activity, “it really is use it or lose it.”

He says people who stay active and mentally engaged are better able to resist the effects of aging.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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