According to the Alzheimer’s Association, growing older is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s. But as we discussed in this post, memory loss in not an inevitable part of aging and there are several things you can do to mitigate the effects of getting on in years. Here are some of the most important ways we can keep our brains healthy as we age.
Challenge your mind
The mind thrives on learning new skills. According to 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, stimulating the mind with new challenges encourages brain cells to grow, which may stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s. Brain autopsies from volunteers have shown that many people who have high levels of beta-amyloid plaques – an indicator of Alzheimer’s – never show any signs of the disease. Many scientists believe this may be because of regular exposure to new activities.
The brain is part of a complex system called the human body. What affects one part of this system can have an effect on other parts. Anything that helps the body stay healthy helps the brain stay healthy. Staying fit helps the brain just as much as the heart, your muscles or any other part of your body. 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. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent.
As we mentioned above, the brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Good nutrition, which helps the body function at its best, is essential for good brain health. There are some specific nutrients that the brain is particularly fond of. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fat, so it’s important to get enough healthy fats in your diet. And that means loading up on your omega-3 fatty acids. Food high in omega-3s include many fish, especially wild salmon, herring, and sardines. Other good sources of omega-3s include flaxseed (including flaxseed oil) and walnuts. Antioxidants, found in high concentrations in blueberries, red beans, green tea and red wine, are also important for brain health. Finally, the brain loves water. Dehydration can raise the level of stress hormones in the body.
Spend time with friends
As human beings, we are, by nature, social animals. Our ability to exchange ideas and share complex emotions has helped build civilizations and create amazing works of art. It’s also important for maintaining brain health. In two separate studies, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Michigan discovered that people who engaged in a lot of social activity showed higher levels of cognitive performance and had slower rates of memory decline. In the Harvard study, socially active adults had less than half the rate of memory decline than those who were the least active.
Reduce your stress
Stress is an underlying cause for many diseases. In a Utah State University study, lead researcher Maria Norton, PhD, discovered that people who experienced particularly stressful life events have significantly higher rates of dementia later in life. One of the best ways to cope with stress is mindful 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. Another way to reduce stress? Laugh! Laughing has been shown to have numerous health benefits, one of which is to lower stress. 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.