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August 20, 2015

Five Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy

Seniors Play Chess for Healthy Brain

Every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. One in three seniors dies with the disease of another form of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country and with an aging population, its impact on society will continue to grow. But a study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that not all people who develop beta-amyloid deposits – a destructive protein association with Alzheimer’s disease – go on to manifest the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Previous studies suggest that people who engage in mentally stimulating activities throughout their lives have lower levels of beta-amyloid. Results from this and previous studies led Dr. William Jagust, the study’s principle investigator, to conclude that “it's very possible that people who spend a lifetime involved in cognitively stimulating activity have brains that are better able to adapt to potential damage.” Here are some tips to keep your brain in peak condition.

Stimulate your mind

As suggested by the UC-Berkeley study, stimulating the mind keeps it sharp and may help in staving off mental decline. A study conducted by Rush University found that people who engaged in mentally stimulating activities – from reading a newspaper to playing chess to learning a new skill – were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia than someone who was mentally inactive. Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, “anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, exercising the mind with new challenges encourages brain cells to grow, which may stave off the effects of dementia.

Exercise your body

We’ve discussed the benefits of physical activity for the brain before. According to the Harvard Health Letter, aerobic exercise helps cognitive function by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation and by releasing growth factors that stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. Exercise also improves sleep and reduces stress, both of which may contribute to cognitive impairment. While most experts recommend between 120 and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week to gain maximum benefit, in one study of seniors, those who reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment due to any reason by 60 percent.

Keep your stress level down

Stress is the root of many diseases, including dementia. A Utah State University study discovered that people who experienced particularly stressful life events have significantly higher rates of dementia later in life. One of the best ways to reduce stress is meditation. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied over 19,000 meditation studies and concluded that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain – all of which are risk factors for dementia. Laughter also helps reduce stress and can aid in short-term memory. Research at Loma Linda University discovered that a group who watched a funny video for 20 minutes scored better on short-term memory tests than a group that sat quietly for 20 minutes.

Improve your diet

The brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whatever is good for the body is usually good for the brain. This is particularly true with what you eat. We know that eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of food is detrimental to staying in peak physical condition, and it is the same for brain health. . Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at UCLA’s School of Medicine, published research that found that the brains of obese seniors had about eight percent less brain volume than their normal-weight counterparts. Lower brain volume increases one’s risk for Alzheimer’s. Additionally, according to research by Dr. Jeff Cummings, director of Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, obesity elevates brain proteins that are linked to the development of the disease. Additionally, the brain is particularly fond of Omega-3 fatty acids, found most plentifully in fish (particularly wild salmon, sardines, and herring), walnuts, and flaxseed.

Spend more time with others

Continuing to participate in life – whether that’s meeting a neighbor for a cup of coffee, volunteering, or joining a book club – has a positive effect on the brain. As we discussed in this post, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health that people who, in their 50s and 60s, engaged in a lot of activity had the slowest rates of memory loss. Mayo Clinic’s National Institute on Aging conducted a study that found that socializing with others made participants (who had a median age of 87) 55 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. 

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2015, IlluminAge