Everyone knows aerobic exercise gets the heart pumping and lifting weights keeps muscles strong. But when it comes to keeping the brain healthy, most people are unsure what to do.
As you age, brain health and maintaining memory functions becomes a top concern. Turns out, these issues may begin sooner than you think.
"We tend to think about memory decline as an older person’s issue, but that’s not the case at all," says Dr. Aimee Gould Shunney, a licensed naturopathic doctor specializing in women’s health and family medicine. "There was a study published in 2012 in the British Medical Journal that examined cognitive function in people age 45 to 70. The researchers did not expect it, but they found evidence of cognitive decline in the 45-year-old participants as well as the older participants."
She notes there are two basic pathological processes that cause degeneration of the brain: oxidative stress and inflammation. Basically, the standard American diet and lifestyle contribute to those processes. No matter your age, you can take charge of your brain health by following these five smart steps from Dr. Shunney:
"A Mediterranean-type diet that focuses on whole foods, good fats and foods high in antioxidants is a great place to start," says Dr. Shunney.
She encourages her patients to focus on getting omega-3 fats from fish and monounsaturated fats from olives, olive oil, nuts and seeds. She also recommends increasing fruits (especially berries) and beans (they're packed with antioxidants). What's more, research shows a little cocoa, coffee and red wine can act as antioxidants and are beneficial in low to moderate amounts.
In addition to a quality multivitamin, Dr. Shunney recommends an omega-3 supplement. "Getting enough omega-3s is one of the most important measures we can take," she says. "DHA is the dominant omega-3 in the brain."
Poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline. "Studies show both sleep deprivation and sleeping too much impact cognitive performance," Dr. Shunney says. "A good goal is to go to bed around the same time each night, sleep for 7-8 hours, and get up around the same time every morning."
"I recommend anything that keeps your mind working," says Dr. Shunney. "Activities that require things to be arranged or puzzles that have to be put together. Crossword puzzles, word games and board games are all great."
"Social isolation has been linked with cognitive decline," says Dr. Shunney. "In one study, people who were lonely experienced cognitive decline at a 20 percent faster rate than people who were not lonely."
Make time to take a foreign language class, join a Toastmaster’s Club, take a watercolor class — anything that connects you regularly to other people.