Brain training in the latest rage among the over 60 crowd and it’s a good idea for all of us.
I’ve always been of the “use it or lose it” school. That means, exercise, a healthy eating plan and yes, mental stimulation.
Alzheimer’s runs in my family. My mother and grandmother both died of the disease, so I am very conscious of the implications and the devastation it causes, not only for the individual with the disease, but also for family and those who love them.
I won’t go into the details of all of that right now. I’m more concerned about prevention and there are some fairly simple life practices that can help protect your brain into your first century and beyond.
- Train your brain: Challenging your brain to understand new concepts is an excellent way to “re-wire” those electrical thought circuits in the brain that may deteriorate with aging.Work your brain as if it is a muscle: the more it works, the stronger it is. A fascinating new study from the University of South Florida showed that 3,000 healthy older people who participated in a five-week brain training program had 33% less dementia than study participants who did not have the training–ten years later!Read. Get a new smartphone and learn how to use it. Learn a language. Do a crossword or numbers puzzle. Take a course at your local college in any subject that interests you. Other research shows that any time you challenge your brain, you forge new neural pathways that will serve you in your later years.
There are endless programs and apps for brain training. Many of them are free. I don’t think it is terribly important which one you choose, just choose one!
- Walk, don’t run! We all know that exercise is essential to oxygenating your system and flooding all of your cells, in this case brain, cells, with life giving oxygen, which allows them to function better. Aches and pains may make us want to move less—and getting off the couch and moving, even for short periods of time, goes a long way toward relieving those aches and pains and floods your brain with endorphins that act as natural pain relievers.In fact, at least one study from 50 years ago or more shows that teenagers who were the most active as teenagers are least likely to experience memory loss as older adults. (A great reason to get those kids away from their phones and outside!)As far as your brain goes, exercise improves circulation and improves your mood, among a score of other health benefits.
My regular readers know I am addicted to walking. I do it everyday, rain or shine or snow or sleet. I walk for 30 minutes at least once a day, and when possible, add a second walk in the afternoon.
Research shows that walking even in increments as small at 10 minutes, is an effective form of exercise to prevent heart disease and other diseases of aging (like dementia and Alzheimer’s) if you do it for a total of 120 minutes a week.
It’s easy—doesn’t require any training. I can do it anywhere and all I need is a good pair of shoes.
In my younger years, I was a runner, but I think that actually accelerated the knee damage that I had begun to suffer from knee injuries in my teens and 20s.
If you love tennis or swimming or any other form of exercise, by all means do it. Do whatever exercise you love but just do it!
- Eat for longevity: A healthy diet is an essential factor in brain health late in life. Studies that take a look at the longest living people on Earth have one thing in common: All of the widely scattered centenarian populations eat a low sugar diet where processed foods are virtually nonexistent.
There is a large body of research on the foods that keep brain cells alive and healthy and promote memory retention.
In the simplest terms, eat these to protect your brain (and the rest of your body, for that matter):
- Leafy greens: kale, spinach, collard and mustard greens.
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains: non-gluten-containing are best: rice, oats, quinoa
- Berries and cherries
- Omega 3 fatty acids: found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, olive oil and flax seed
- Nuts: cashews, walnuts, pecan and almonds
- Pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- Cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and sage
These three lifestyle strategies will go a long way toward protecting your brain and keeping you sharp throughout your life.