A Healthy Brain

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healthy brain

As anyone ages, the most feared aspect of getting older is losing mental capacity.  Another large concern for the older population is depression. Those 65 and older have the highest rate of suicide in the United States.  Heart attacks in older people with depression are 5 times more likely to die.

After all this depressing news, there is something positive we can all do to help protect our brains from both memory loss and age-related depression.  Research is now presenting a body of evidence that teaches us how to protect the brain.

lifestyleLifestyle is the keyword when considering a healthier brain.  It isn’t just one thing you need to do, but a collaboration of many different aspects that work together.  We will discuss each one separately and then you need to decide what changes you need to make in your lifestyle to incorporate all the different challenges you need to add to your way of living.

ExerciseExercise has scientifically been shown to increase the connection of the neurotransmitters in your brain.  In brain scans of those that have alzheimer’s  there are less neurotransmitters, so this is important. Aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease the possibility of Alzheimer’s by 30 to 50%.  Research has shown that walking 6 to 8 miles a week should be your goal.  Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, reduces stress, and increases mood boosting hormones such as serotonin. You are never too old to start.  Start slowly and gradually increase the distance each week until you reach your goal.  If you have trouble with your knees or hips,  try swimming.  Just do something you will enjoy and continue doing.  Studies show that exercising is sometimes just as good as taking a tranquilizer, without the side effects.  Also try to incorporate  some stretching and weight bearing exercises to round out a healthy exercise program.

woman on computerMental stimulation in old age will decrease your likelihood of developing some form of dementia by 2.6 times according to one study.  Rush University Medical Center, one of the leading brain centers, found that the odds of avoiding the disease correlated to your level of mental activity.    Other studies think it is important to be introducing new material and not just repetition. So think of taking a class to learn something new in your life.  Learn another language, learn to play an instrument, join a book club, just do something new that you find enjoyable so you will continue doing the activity.

Healthy Food

The Food we eat also plays a big role in mental sharpness.  Let’s  first start with what to take out of your diet.  Most of the suggestions correlates to a healthy heart diet.

A high intake of trans fats is consistently associated with bad cognitive performance.  Animal research has also show that a diet high in sugar can affect the insulin receptors in the brain. The receptors and their connecting function is imperative for cognitive functioning.  Some research not only shows that cooking food at a high temperature can increase carcinogenic compounds, but is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  So try to just grill on the weekends instead of ever night of the week.

PyramidResearch has shown that controlling inflammation may be protective.  Here is a link to an anti-inflammation diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been shown to help with a reduction in inflammation.  Blueberries are shown to be particularly helpful in brain protection and maintenance. So here is another reason to head to the salad bar and incorporate a salad with every meal.

One of the most important foods to eat is seafood.  Some seafood contains mercury and should be avoided.  Seek out fish high in Omega 3 fats.  Research suggest that Omega 3 will slow the growth of brain lesions that lead to Alzheimer’s.  The DHA in Omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce the formation of plaque in the brain.

Some call it the miracle spice–turmeric.  Clinical research suggest that it helps to block the tumericformation of plaque that interferes with brain function.  Countries that use a lot of this spice tend to have a lower occurrence of Alzheimer’s.

green teaGreen tea contains a powerful antioxidant, EGCG, that appears to protect against all forms of dementia and helps to improve memory.

Having a positive attitude may help ward off mental decline. The relaxation response will help you keep things in perspective and make life overall more enjoyable.  Meditation, yoga, breath work should all be explored to see if one helps you more than the other.

yogaI have tried to give you the highlights of starting on a better lifestyle so you can stay sharp into your golden years.  You can find books written on each of the subjects touched upon.  But if you just start with the suggestions mentioned here you will be well on your way to a healthier life.

It is not easy,  but once you start you will feel so much better that you will continue to work on being healthier and feeling better.  You are never too old to start, the secret is to find what you enjoy in each category so you will continue on this lifelong journey.

Supplements also should be added to your daily routine.  This should be discussed with your primary care physicians. If you are on a prescriptive medication you need to make sure any supplements you take don’t interfere with them.  There are also certain supplements that are used for certain problems so a general supplement regime isn’t suggested.  There are some doctors that will take blood work and according to the results,  will suggest certain supplements.

Here are three resources that you should absolutely get a hold of:

The Better Brain Book

The Grain Brain Cookbook

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers


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