I couldn’t help but notice that my most recent article on helping you determine what was “Normal Age Related Memory Loss” or dementia related behavior, created a great deal of commentary from my readers. It was all positive and since this is the time that about 50% of the population makes New Year resolutions, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a resolution we can all make that can result in becoming more brain healthy.
At my lectures, I’m asked regularly what I, we, you can do to keep our brain healthy. Although I am not a physician or clinician, I’ve spent enough time around them to know that there are two major factors that go a long way to helping you maintain a healthy brain. Simply put, diet and exercise. Let’s look at why.
According to The Dana Foundation (www.dana.org), physical activity has benefits for people of any age, regardless of their ability. In fact, many experts contend that regular exercise is the single most important thing we can do to improve overall health and prevent disease. Exercise is strongly associated with successful brain aging as it increases levels of brain chemicals which encourages the growth of neurons. That may explain why aerobic activity like walking, biking or swimming appear to sharpen memory and enhance learning. It also states that strength training has improved cognition in older women. This is important to know because of the over 16 million at home caregivers of those with dementia in this country, 2/3rds of them are women and 1/3rd of them are daughters.
The brain is a vascular organ just like your heart so it makes sense that what you’re doing that benefits your heart is going to benefit your brain. With that said, here are some more reasons you may want to make the resolution to exercise in the New Year.
-It enhances your memory and learning.
-It improves your mood and counteracts depression
-It enlarges blood vessels so more blood oxygen is getting to the brain.
-It increaces the rate that neurons are generated in the memory center of the brain.
So do you have to go out and join a gym (as I write this, I’m not even sure you can)? No, as we can all enjoy physical activity at little or no cost. Recently CDC studies showed that just 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it is in 10 minutes segments can provide you significant health benefits. The National Institute on Aging goes further and recommends four types of exercise. Endurance exercise like walking or other aerobic activities that build stamina. Strength exercises using free weights or resistance weights. Flexibility exercises like stretching or yoga. And Balance exercises that can help you prevent falls.
Don’t take on the mindset of a “weekend warrior” and charge out the door to attempt a marathon. Talk to your Doctor about it and then start slowly with say, a 10 minute walk around the house or the neighborhood. As a member of the Guest relations team of a well known hotel in Watch Hill, I constantly see walkers, bikers and runners of all ages out and about.
There’s one more type of exercise we should discuss and that’s Mental exercise. Don’t be that “old dog that doesn’t think he can’t learn new tricks.” “We’re never to old to build our brain by using it” states The Dana Fundation. Your brain wants to learn and be engaged so change your routine. Take up a hobby, learn a new craft, study a foreign language, take a course online, join a club, group or civic organization and socialize. For years I’ve said that socialization can be as important as your medication.
There are a number of things you and I can do today to preserve our mental abilities and as a result enjoy a better quality of life as we age.
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the Journey.