Brain Power: 12 Ways to Maximize Your Mental Health Into Your Golden Years

By Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D.
Changes that were once labeled milestones in growing older—such as high blood pressure, fragile bones, weight gain and significant memory loss are no longer considered inevitable. Your mind can be as vibrant in your 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s as it was in your 30s. Below are some of my favorite foods and other natural lifestyle tips to keep your memory sharp, concentration elevated, and your mind active and vibrant well into your golden years.

1. Add an apple a day
A Cornell University study says this much-loved fruit has a potent antioxidant that appears to protect brain cells from free-radical damage. Quercetin may be the magic compound. … Since apples—especially the skins—are loaded with quercitin, I recommend having one daily.

2. Be a berry fanatic
Any time of year, find ways to add berries to the foods you already eat, either fresh or frozen. Enjoy them in smoothies, fruit salads, cereals, desserts or simply as a snack.  Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, cranberries and other varieties boast phytochemicals, which are thought to defend the body against damaging carcinogens and free radicals. … Blueberries are known as the “brain berry.” Just one half cup a day retards aging and can reverse failing memory.

3. Prevent memory loss with herbal support
… Gingko biloba is the world's longest living species of tree. Gingko improves circulation and blood flow, increases mental clarity and even clears up headaches.  (Studies have shown) it contains a unique blend of terpene lactones that enable extracts of this herb to increase circulation to the brain and other parts of the body. It's safe, but it has anticoagulant properties, so increased bruising is possible. Like garlic, it should not be taken for seven days prior to surgery.

4. Use asparagus to strengthen your memory
One of the key players in better brain function is the B vitamin complex—specifically folate, thiamin, B6 and B12. Experts say that low levels of B vitamins can result in poor memory and possibly Alzheimer's disease. It's been well documented that people well nourished with B vitamins perform better on memory tests than those with B deficiencies. Also, according to recent studies, eating enough folate in particular may significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Asparagus is an excellent source of these vitamins.

5. Bananas add brainpower
Bananas will enhance your brainpower well into your golden years. Research has shown that bananas, which are rich in potassium and B6, can assist learning by making students more alert. In my private practice, the simple tip of eating one banana daily has done wonders for the mental acuity of many of my clients between the ages of 50 and 89.

6. Turnips and greens give you vitamin E
Vitamin E helps fight free radicals—unstable molecules that damage your cells. This damage has been linked to cancer, heart disease, memory loss and Alzheimer's. A 10-year study of Chicago residents over the age of 65 found that eating vitamin-E rich foods is more effective than taking a supplement. So focus on getting your vitamin E naturally through foods such as turnips and greens.

7. Eat spinach—The wonder food
Spinach is known to help vision and memory loss. The fat-soluble nutrients in spinach like vitamins A, E and D will keep your thyroid healthy and your mind sharp. Spinach also is a good source of iron. Steaming is the best cooking method for preserving the vitamins. Squeeze more iron from foods like spinach by sprinkling (them) with a dash of lemon. The vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron from the spinach.

8. Almonds give you needed magnesium
Only two ounces of almonds will give you more than 50 percent of your daily requirement of magnesium—a mineral that's important for heart health. Almonds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a form of unsaturated fat that helps improve memory and mental performance and may defend against Alzheimer's disease. In addition, they are a great source of vitamin E, another memory enhancer.

9. Use rosemary to remember
You may have heard the old saying “rosemary is for remembrance.” Rosemary is full of antioxidants that will help keep your memory sharp. This pungent herb can enhance sauces and liven up breads and muffins. You can also add it to plain beans for flavor. Just remember that a tiny bit of rosemary goes long way. Start with a minimal amount when cooking, and add more as you like.

10. Banish “senior moments” with ginseng
One of my favorite tips for keeping forgetfulness at bay is to sip on ginseng tea. Ginseng is a whole-system tonic that helps you withstand stress, increase endurance, prevent colds and the flu, and improve mental performance. Steep one teaspoon of the herb (or use a ginseng tea bag) in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Drink one to two cups daily. You may also take it in tablet or capsule form.

11. Exercise for life
Exercise is imperative if you want to keep your mind strong and healthy well into your golden years. Regular exercise assists with weight loss, reduces stress, makes your skin glow and your spirit soar. It also keeps your mind alert, focused and strong.

12. Indulge in joyous activities
The foods you eat have a profound effect on your brainpower, but there are also other activities that you can incorporate to help keep your mind vibrant and uplifted. Top on my list is always starting my day with Daily Word magazine, a practice that's been part of my life since I was 17 years old. I wouldn't be without it.

In addition, you'll want to include other healthy practices such as:

  • Getting regular ample sleep.
  • Drinking plenty of purified water.
  • Including quality meditation and prayer reflection time.
  • Playing with animals.
  • Laughing often.
  • Giving generously.
  • Serving others.
  •  Telling your loved ones how much you care about them.

All of these lifestyle choices will help keep your stress levels down and your heart smiling.

Keep your mind active with:

  • Reading.
  • Crossword puzzles.
  • Board games such as backgammon, chess and checkers.
  • Card games.

Finally, always remember to spend some quality time in nature several times weekly. When the urge strikes you, seek out rainbows, ladybugs, dragonflies and butterflies. Not only will these calls of nature augment your brainpower, they also will bring more sweetness, passion and joy into your life.

Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D., has taught health and fitness at the University of California, Los Angeles for 30 years. She travels internationally as a motivational speaker, holistic health consultant and is a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows. She is the author of more than 25 books. Visit or for more information.