In past newsletters, I’ve shared my personal commitment to fitness with you. There’s no question that when it comes to keeping the body in shape, you either “use it or lose it.” That’s why I do regular cardiovascular and strength workouts, even when my busy schedule threatens to take over. I know that sticking to an exercise regimen will keep me energized today and help me stay active as I age.
Much in the same way that exercise keeps the body fit, giving your brain regular workouts can fight memory loss as you get older. In fact, there are many things you can do for your brain that won’t even cause you to break a sweat!
The Aging Brain
Most people feel like they are “losing their minds” as they get older. I am happy to tell you that this is not the case. Clinical dementia is most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s Disease or stroke. What most people experience when they notice increased memory loss is simply the result of getting older. Luckily, you can fight it! If you regularly exercise your brain, increasing your cognitive reserve, it follows that you will be a lot sharper than a person who rarely flexes their mental muscle.
When I explain this to my patients, it instantly makes sense–use it or lose it. This theory is also backed up by research. New Scientist recently recommended ways to reduce the mental decline that often comes with aging. Even though our cognitive development reaches its peak in our 20’s, we can keep building that brain reserve by learning new things, trying new hobbies, making new social connections and doing mental aerobics like crossword or sudoku puzzles.
Japanese researchers even showed that older people can fight off cognitive decline and possibly dementia by playing video games designed to exercise the brain. You may have seen some of these computer games on the market recently. Even traditional shoot ‘em up games like Nintendo is getting in on the act with easy to use remotes and consoles.
An Active Mind is a Healthy Mind
When I explain these findings to my patients, they are often encouraged to pick up a book, do a puzzle or even sign up for Spanish lessons. It’s wonderful to see that keeping the brain healthy also brings renewed vitality and fun into their lives. Along with the fun stuff, there are other behaviors that can increase your chances of having the brain of a 28-year-old in your golden years.
It turns out that physical exercise is great for the brain as well as the body (You knew I’d have to plug exercise sooner or later!). In fact, researchers at the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle say that regular exercise can reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly by 40%. People who exercised just three times a week saw benefits. If that’s not motivation to get moving, I don’t know what is!
Another important factor in brain health is stress. If your life is so stressful that you’re mentally exhausted, it’s time to make some changes for the sake of your physical and mental health.
Did you know that your brain is also affected by your diet? The good news is that you don’t have to deprive yourself. Foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts and even chocolate are delicious and full of brain-boosting substances. The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are also a boon for your brain.
Building your brain power is a good plan for everyone, and it’s sure to make life more enjoyable. You may not be able to keep the body young forever, but the brain can stay fit for life!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.