FOOD FOR THOUGHT Research now clearly shows that as you age, your cognitive function reflects what you do in your daily life.
Memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, reduced coordination and balance and fundamental changes in personality – these are just some of the symptoms of impaired cognitive function.
They are part of an overall condition we know as dementia. Over 55,000 people are affected by dementia in Ireland. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes. Every year in Ireland 11,000 people develop dementia. That’s four a day. The number affected is projected to double in the next 20 years.
When I was young, these conditions were accepted as part and parcel of growing older. The accepted knowledge was that as we age, our brains – like our muscles and bones and pretty much all the rest of our component parts – atrophy. It was a natural by product of ageing.
In the past 20 years, this accepted knowledge has been questioned and turned on its head in many respects. Yes, there is an ageing process within the brain. However, the causes of ageing, and in particular, the amount of control we have over how ageing affects us and our brains, has taken a quantum leap forward.
The ageless formula
It may come as no surprise to readers of this column that the formula for protecting your ageing brain is a very familiar one. Research now clearly shows that cognitive function as you age reflects what you do in your daily life.
What you eat, how much you exercise, the level of stress you experience, your personal relationships and your environment all have a profound affect on brain health. In fact, by attending to these areas, you can improve brain functioning as you age, a concept known as neuroplasticity.
Blueprint for the brain
The following strategy offers a blueprint for brain health. By incorporating these suggestions into your life, at any age, you can help protect your brain health and live a fuller, more independent life well into your senior years.
The link between brain health and exercise is well established. Though much of the evidence is anecdotal, numerous studies have shown that aerobic exercise stimulates the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein has been linked to the growth of new brain cells and overall brain functioning.
Resistance training, such as bodyweight exercise or using weights, increase levels of another protein called IGF-1, which again is linked with neurogenesis. Aim to get 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times weekly, and start resistance training by doing ten minutes of bodyweight exercise three times per week.
Another great option with known benefits for posture, balance and cognitive function is Tai Chi. The flowing movements demand planning, anticipating and responding to neural feedback to accomplish a movement pattern.
Research has shown that a variation of the Mediterranean-style diet, known as the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, helped slow cognitive decline.
A blend of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, it includes eating fish, olive oil, poultry, whole grains, nuts, beans, berries, green leafy vegetables and all other vegetables, as well as drinking red wine (that is not a typo).
Manage your stress by engaging in a daily meditation practice for ten minutes in the morning and evening. You can also try spending more time in nature, or even laughing more. Watch some of your favourite comedies or go to a stand-up show.
Work to create a healthy environment in your home and at work. Drink plenty of water, surround yourself with plants and beauty, create an area in your home or workplace for chilling out. Insist upon technology-free time in the home.
There is plenty of evidence that enjoying close personal relationships has an effect on happiness and mood. This is turn positively affects brain health. Spend quality time with family and friends to chat, share your goals and dreams or talk through a challenge you are having. Happier people are healthier people.
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.