Habits for a Healthy Brain for Life

As the brain ages, its white matter often develops small lesions because of disrupted blood flow, leading to impaired cognitive function and mobility. Researchers at the University of British Columbia wanted to determine whether strength training might offer protection. Women ages 65 to 75 who already had lesions were divided into three groups: once-a-week strength trainers, twice-a-week strength trainers, and those who did other exercise. The results: Women who strength trained twice a week showed significantly less progression of white matter lesions than the other two groups did. Key moves you can try at home (using soup cans for weight): biceps curls, triceps extensions, calf raises, mini squats, mini lunges, and lunge walks; aim for 45 minutes a session. Here’s how to get stronger arms without lifting weights.

 

Scientists surveyed volunteers on seven familiar heart-health factors and tested their cognitive performance at two points over eight years. The results found that the more heart-healthy habits people had, the less cognitive decline they exhibited. A stronger cardiovascular system means a stronger pipeline of nutrients to the brain, says lead author Hannah Gardener, ScD, an epidemiologist in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami. The seven heart-health ideals to strive for may be familiar (if they seem overwhelming, Gardener points out that “each one helps”): Not smoking (or quitting); healthy body mass index (under 25); physically active (for at least 150 minutes a week); healthy total cholesterol (under 200 mg/dL); healthy blood pressure (under 120/80 mmHg); healthy blood sugar (under 100 mg/dL); and balanced diet (rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains; low in sodium and sweets).

 

Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, has spent many years studying the meditative tradition called Kirtan Kriya and has found that daily 12-minute sessions of the practice can improve blood flow to the brain and possibly even increase levels of telomerase, an enzyme that slows cell aging. The practice is simple: While breathing deeply, chant the Sanskrit words saa, taa, naa, maa (which mean “my divine self”) while moving your thumb to touch your index, middle, ring, and pinkie fingers with each new sound. Like any meditation, it may help to lift anxiety and fatigue. Here are other compelling health benefits of mediation.

 

Whether you’re deliberating a chess move or bluffing at cards, you’re also giving the frontal lobe, the area of your brain that handles executive function, a workout. “The frontal lobe is particularly vulnerable to degeneration and the effects of aging,” says Dr. Kosik. According to a 2014 University of Wisconsin study, older adults who routinely worked on puzzles and played board games had higher brain volume in the area responsible for cognitive functions, including memory, than those who didn’t play games. These weird brain exercises can help you get smarter.

 

A rich new area of science is analyzing which healthy habits best keep your mind and memory blithely unaffected even when a brain scan would reveal the inflammation, free radical damage, and weakened synapse connections that often cause “senior” moments in the 40s and beyond. Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, codirector of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has studied which habits most powerfully boost our cognitive function. Here he shares the most up-to-date research from innovative labs plus the best brain-boosting tips from his book Outsmarting Alzheimer’s. These are daily habits of people with impressive memory.

 

 

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