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Four Ways to Stay Sharp

Be a Social Butterfly
Staying social could shield your brain from the effects of aging, shows a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. Among a group of 16,638 older adults, the least socially active participants showed twice the rate of memory decline compared with the most gregarious folks.

Mixing and mingling stimulate parts of the brain that control your memory, explains Pittsburgh-based neuropsychologist Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D. For a particularly powerful brain boost, Nussbaum suggests working in regular activities that pair socializing with learning. "It's important to interact with others in ways that engage your brain in novel ways," he says, "like taking dance classes or traveling to new places."

Banish Bad Vibes
People prone to negative emotions and stress may be 40 percent more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, according to a study in Neurology. Study authors hypothesize that a lifetime of stress could adversely affect an area of the brain responsible for regulating memory.

To stop stress from wreaking havoc on your brain, Nussbaum recommends devoting 30 minutes a day to calming activities, such as reading. Or, at a minimum, aim for 10 to 15 minutes of meditation.

Check Your Iron
Taking iron supplements could increase brain power for iron-deficient women, according to a 2007 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Results showed that after 16 weeks of treatment for iron deficiency, participants performed five to seven times better on cognitive tasks.

Low iron -- the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States -- typically triggers symptoms such as fatigue and a decrease in work performance. But overloading on iron can lead to organ damage, cautions Martha Clare Morris, director of the Rush Center on Nutrition and Aging, so it's crucial to supplement only under the supervision of a doctor.

Sip Smarter
Slurping down too many sugary drinks could raise your risk for Alzheimer's disease, according to recent research. After 25 weeks with free access to sugar water, mice displayed memory-retention problems and an increase in brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's development. Researchers aren't sure if the bump in sugar intake caused the increased mental impairment. But past research has indicated that inflammation and insulin resistance (both linked to excess sugar intake) could lead to Alzheimer's.

Limit soda and other sugary treats, advises Morris, and feed your brain omega-3-rich fish and antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables, which show promise in protecting the brain from age-related damage.

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