Brain Health: What Helps, What Hurts

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Health

Want to stay sharp into a very old age? Get regular exercise, keep your heart healthy and mind your medications. Those were the major findings of a report on brain health recently issued by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and cosponsored by AARP. The good news? Cognitive decline is not inevitable as we age. Here’s what helps, what hurts and what may not be effective in preserving your brain health.

What Helps

Aerobic exercise is especially beneficial for brain health, and even better when combined with strength training. Exercising for longer periods – at least 30 minutes or more at a time – appears to be better for brain health than shorter sessions.

Activities that challenge your brain – including reading books, writing letters and learning a new language – all help preserve brain function, as do social activities such as volunteering, playing cards, attending worship services and talking to friends.

Although no specific diet has been proven to maintain or improve brain health, studies of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets justify eating less meat and consuming more nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables and olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, have been shown to help cognition in some studies, though not in others.

Poor sleep quality is linked to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. Breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, also put older people at higher risk for memory problems and dementia.

What Hurts

In midlife, depression doubles the risk for cognitive decline and dementia, possibly because depression causes changes in the hippocampus.

Problems hearing and seeing are both linked to trouble with thinking, memory and socialization and should be corrected, if possible.

Anticholinergic drugs have been shown to increase the risk of dementia – these include antihistamines, such as Benadryl, sleep meds such as Tylenol PM and some antidepressants.

Not only can daily stress cause memory problems, but long-term stress is connected with faster rate of decline in brain health too.

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