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4 Best Brain Boosters For Women Over 40

These fixes aren't rocket science, but they may really help.

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salmon filet on wooden slab shown for brain food
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It’s Brain Health Awareness Month so show your brain some love with Staying Sharp.

The brain drain is real, ladies — and it’s really frustrating. Info that was once easily accessible now lives full time on the tip of our tongues.

It’s happening to all of us, and no, we’re not imagining it. Studies have shown that the hormonal havoc wreaked by perimenopause messes with recall and attention to detail. The estrogen dip hits us right in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that turns short-term memories into long-term memories and stores them both. Couple that with lack of sleep, inactivity and poor diet, and blammo — bye-bye super brain that once balanced multiple schedules, remembered birthdays and could recite the entire theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

But all is not lost (except maybe your car keys and the name of that actor … you know the one). While there’s no magic pill to reverse cognitive decline, there are ways to stem the effects and prime your mind to perform at its best. These fixes aren’t rocket science, but they have been proven by scientists to help boost your brain.

Sleep: Make it a priority. Put your phone down. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Medicate, meditate — do something to fix it. Scientists believe that sleep is when your brain processes your day and then stores it as memories to recall later. Poor sleep habits not only affect your ability to make memories, they also contribute to brain fog while you’re awake, which decreases your ability to absorb information, much less remember it later. If you’re not sleeping well, it’s important, nay — VITAL — to stop and consider why and fix it. The ripple effect of sucky sleep is far and wide. Are you stressed? Depressed? Anxious? In pain? Deep dive into why, because it’s messing with you mentally.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Remember back in the day being told that “fish is brain food!” Turns out it’s more than just a way for parents to get their kids to eat seafood. Did you know the brain is the fattiest organ in the body? It’s about 75 percent water and 60 percent fat. The healthy fats in omega-3s build brain cell membranes and help grow new ones. Yes, that’s right. Scientists have learned that you CAN build new brain cells. Guess where? In the hippocampus! Home to the memory machine! (It’s called neurogenesis, and it’s pretty cool.) Guess what else? Neuroscientists have found that new brain cells can be made until we’re in our 90s. Now, where you gonna get your omega-3s? The best way is through food like mackerel, salmon, cod and flaxseed oil. If that turns you off, then try a supplement, but do your homework. Not all omega-3 supplements are created equal. When in doubt, ask your doc.

Brain train: Find new things to learn, and do the things you already do differently. By the time we’re in our 40s we’ve trained our minds to do things a certain way, which puts us on a mental autopilot. If you want to develop new brain pathways, you need to think a new way. Find something completely out of your comfort zone (a new skill, new language) that interests you, and make sure it’s not something you can master right away. Keep stretching your mind by adding on to what you learned last time. Before you take on something new, reboot your brain with meditation. The proven cognitive benefits of mediation are growing rapidly. A UCLA study showed that long-term meditators had more brain volume than non-meditators over time. Studying mindfulness curbs our natural, wandering “monkey brain” that gravitates toward nonessential, not-memory-worthy information. Medical imaging is proving that several areas of the brain in people who meditate have better connectivity and more gray matter overall.

Exercise: The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. That is (insert hold music while we brain flex the math on this) 20ish minutes a day. You can do that. Regular exercise oxygenates the brain and boosts the size of the … wait for it … hippocampus! Your visual memory and ability to learn is stored here, too. Chemicals that are released during exertion enhance brain cells and stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. Brain scans have shown improved blood flow and brain activity after just a 20-minute walk. Exercise improves your overall health — better sleep, better mood and better cognitive function.