September 9-15, 2019
By Nan Selz
Executive Council, AARP Arkansas
If supplements and mind-enhancing games, don’t lessen or delay the risk of dementia, what can we do to keep our mind sharp as we age? The clear answer is that we should adopt a healthy lifestyle – the sooner, the better. Dozens of studies here and abroad have documented the positive effects of diet and exercise on brain health along with their myriad other benefits.
The very same foods that keep your heart healthy support the health of your brain as well – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, low-fat dairy products and olive oil. In addition to what you should eat for better brain health, there’s the usual list of what you should NOT eat – salty food, fried food, red meat, cheese, butter or margarine, pastries and sweets.
This eating pattern is called the MIND diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. A major study found that seniors who followed this diet had a 35 percent lower risk for cognitive decline over time and strict adherence to the regimen lowered risk by more than 50 percent. The best news is that this diet also reduces the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, and these conditions foster dementia as well as being very hazardous to your physical health.
The second component to a healthy lifestyle is, of course, exercise. Physical fitness does indeed promote mental fitness. Researchers reported in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice, “We found that exercising for at least 52 hours [over six months] is associated with improved cognitive performance in older adults with and without cognitive impairment.” That means exercising as little as two hours per week can improve your cognitive faculties. And, as we know, exercise improves your physical health as well so there’s a double benefit here as there is with diet.
There is one final step to a healthy lifestyle and it’s one we often overlook – sleep. Sleep removes toxins that build up during waking hours, and it gives the brain a chance to form new memories. Lack of sleep impairs our abilities to reason, to problem-solve and to pay attention. Researchers suggest we should try to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
For more information on the exercise study cited above, go to https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2018/steady-exercise-increase-older-brainpower.html
For more information on the MIND diet, go to https://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260(15)00017-5/fulltext
For more information on the importance of sleep to cognitive function, to https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-sleep-clears-brain