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Gerotalk

Ten Ways to Maintain Brain Health as You Age

Published October 23, 2013 9:53 AM by Brian Garavaglia
The fear of cognitive debilitation as we age is one of the greatest apprehensions that individuals have about aging. It is also an area of misconception as well. Although dementia and other forms of major cognitive decline are not inevitable as we age as so many think, aging is correlated with greater levels of cognitive debilitation, especially through various forms of dementia. Furthermore, as a larger number of our population reaches older age, more concern has continued to exist on how one may be able to ward off feared neurocognitive disturbances such as Alzheimer's disease. The following are some suggestions that have been made by a number of experts in the field of aging and neuroscience.

The first, and possibly the most important source of enhancing brain health, is to remain physically active, especially through regular exercise. Higher rates of physical exercise can have a pronounced effect on reducing dementia. However, even smaller amounts of exercise, as little as 15 minutes three days each week, can have an appreciable effect on enhancing brain health (Howard, 2012).

Another recommendation has been to engage in resistance exercise through the use of weights or even resistance training through exercise bands or calisthenics. In addition to helping to maintain bone and muscle health as we age, it is thought that resistance training helps to promote insulin-like growth factors to nourish and protect brain cells (Howard, 2012).

A third important tip for brain health is to seek out new skills. This is basically tantamount to learning a new and challenging skill. The emphasis on new and challenging is important since it helps to ramp up metabolic activity in the brain and increase brain cell connections. If a person continues to do things that they are already facile at it fails to provide the neurological fodder for building new brain connections. Do not fall prey to the adage of "old dogs cannot learn new tricks." Although learning may not come as easy as when one was younger, attempt to learn new and challenging things to enhance the connectivity of the brain.

The fourth recommendation is to reduce stress. Stress enhances cortisol levels, an important stress hormone, and unremitting cortisol flooding the brain is neurotoxic, which can lead to cell death in the brain. Subsequently, engaging is various forms and techniques of relaxation, such as through meditation, yoga, or other forms of tension reduction strategies can be very important to one's overall brain health.

One's diet is important. Eating a diet that has higher levels of important fatty acids and antioxidants, such as those found in certain fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables can provide a considerable benefit to long-term brain health. Columbia University found that eating a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 34%-48% (Howard, 2012).

Another area that has been given greater attention is possibly using certain spices that may have a potentially therapeutic effect on the brain. Spices like black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger, and vanilla are high in antioxidants. In addition, the ingredient curcumin found in turmeric, which is a common ingredient in many Indian curries, might hold considerable potential. In looking at the effect of curcumin in animal research, scientists have found that it reduces amyloid plaques, the plaques that play a considerable role in Alzheimer's disease, as well as also helping to reduce tissue inflammation in the brain (Howard, 2012).

Another tip for brain health that researchers provide is developing a unified sense of purpose in one's life. Researchers have found that those that have a greater purpose with a greater clarity in their goals had reduced levels of Alzheimer's disease.

Developing a strong social life may be a protective buffer in helping to prevent dementia. Being socially engaged and interactive has been found to be very instrumental in enhancing one's health at all levels, and as it relates to brain health, it continues to show important health enhancing effects.

Remaining healthy in other areas helps to promote brain health. Reducing levels of obesity and maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and keeping one's blood glucose levels under control are all significant in warding off cardiovascular disease, kidney disease as well as many other forms of physical illnesses, all of which can further increase the likelihood for impairing one's brain health.

Finally, make sure you are mindful of maintaining proper vitamin intake. Most of this can be done through a well-balanced diet, but as we age, one may suffer from vitamin deficiencies due to impaired digestive absorption from food intake. Physicians also have to make sure they are more aware of examining deficiencies in this area that could lead to possible cognitive declines.

Although many individuals think that cognitive decline is an inevitable part of aging, this is not true. Many things can be done to reduce and even prevent cognitive decline. However, as with anything in life, a level of effort is needed to achieve the desired goals. However, getting into a regular habit can provide benefits that lead to individuals achieving a much more functional life.

Reference

Howard B. Age-proof your brain: 10 easy ways to stay sharp forever. AARP The Magazine. 2012, Feb/Mar, p. 53-54, 56.

 

posted by Brian Garavaglia

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About this Blog


    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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