As we age, cognitive decline is common, there is much that we can do to boost brainpower, while promoting overall health.
Neuroplasticity means the brain can grow, rewire, adapt and strengthen when properly stimulated. Recent studies suggest physical and mental exercise, a healthy diet and other common lifestyle changes can improve brain function, delay dementia symptoms and even lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Even though we cannot predict exactly who will get Alzheimer’s disease and when, we do know that people who practice Alzheimer’s prevention strategies improve their quality of life and reap immediate benefits in memory and health,” says Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Longevity Center and co-author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life.
Here are some smart ways to boost your brain, while building total body health:
Carrying around a lot of belly fat is often a sign of increased cell inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. In one study, men who had the most abdominal fat in their 40s were the most likely to develop dementia later on. Just another reason to improve your diet and lace up your walking shoes.
Have it checked every year. If it’s high — that is, above 120/80 mmHg — work with your doctor to get it down. High systolic blood pressure limits blood and nutrients to the brain, making it more likely that you will lose gray matter in critical areas as you age.
Studies have shown that eating foods like salmon, tuna and other oily fish — along with flaxseed and walnuts — that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a good bet for all-around brain and heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA and EPA, which are highly concentrated in the brain and crucial for optimal brain function, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
These fatty acids are important to consume, because our neurons use them to build brain cell walls and maintain good brain health. In studies, people with low blood levels of omega-3s had lower brain volume than people with higher levels, suggesting their brains were aging more rapidly. One study at Tufts University found that people who ate oily fish three times a week reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 40 percent.
The ideal side dish to your salmon entrée is a leafy green vegetable like spinach, kale, Swiss chard or collards. All have been linked to slowing cognitive decline, thanks to their high concentration of vitamin K. According to a new study from Rush University Medical Center, people who ate one to two servings of leafy greens each day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none.
And eat a bucketful. Inside each berry is a special antioxidant called anthocyanin, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and protect brain cells from oxidation damage. A Harvard Nurses’ Health Study of 16,000 women older than 70 found that women who consumed two or more half-cup servings of blueberries or strawberries per week remained mentally sharper than those who didn’t eat berries.
Word-recall tasks and other brain challenges like Sudoku and crossword puzzles might decrease your risk of dementia, according to a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley. The scientists believe brain challenges prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain, the protein that accumulates in the brain of Alzheimer patients.
A study from Spain showed that men who ate about four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day showed better language comprehension, attention and abstract thinking than those on a low-fat diet. Its antioxidants may reduce brain inflammation.
In an eight-year study reported in The Lancet Neurology, researchers gave cognitive-performance tests to 89 elderly people and then compared the results of testing with autopsy findings some years later. They found that the larger a person’s social network, the smaller an effect the neurological tangles and plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease had on cognitive ability. Researchers say the protective effects of having many friends were more evident for the parts of the brain where we store general knowledge, language and factual information.
Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease. The scientific name for prion disease is transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. The operative word is “transmissible.” Even the global surge in autism appears to be related.