As we age, we develop more risks for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cerebrovascular disease/stroke, all of which may affect our cognitive abilities and decrease one’s quality of life.
There is increasing recognition, however, that the way we treat our bodies in our younger years, and especially in middle and older age, greatly influences our chances of developing problems such as heart disease, diabetes and other systemic disorders. Evidence is also accumulating that those of us who have a lifetime of cognitively stimulating activities and rich social engagements likely build cognitive reserve that may protect against memory loss later in life.
Middle age and older adults who engage in aerobic exercise regularly under the guidance of a physician or physical therapist may promote rich oxygenated blood to the brain that promotes the growth of new cells in the areas of the brain involved in memory. In addition to exercise, heart-healthy diets that avoid saturated fat or partially or fully hydrogenated oils are good for both the heart and the brain.
In light of this accumulating evidence, we recommend:
▪ The Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes good oils, nuts, fruits and vegetables, or an equivalent diet recommended by a qualified nutritionist.
▪ The American Heart Association guidelines of at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise like brisk walking or swimming or running.
▪ Learning novel things and challenging yourself in different ways to build newer and stronger neuronal networks and cognitive reserve.
▪ Developing rich and satisfying social networks.
▪ Seeking professional help for anxiety and depression since chronic stress can have adverse effects on the body and the brain.
▪ Obtaining sufficient sleep, usually seven to eight hours nightly, to recharge, repair and re-energize the body.
Be good to your brain and you will be rewarded by optimal efficiency and performance as you enjoy your golden years.
David Loewenstein, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist at UHealth — the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.