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Published on: November 11, 2012
by Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd for She Knows:
Recent news reports say that stress might cause women’s brains to age more rapidly. Add that to nutrient-deficient diets, lack of exercise and daily exposure to toxins and it’s a perfect storm for mental function decline. But there are steps women can take to keep theirs brain active, strong and healthy.
Exercise your body for a strong mind
Twenty percent – that’s the proportion of blood flowing from the heart that goes to our brains. Exercise increases heart health, which in turn ensures your brain gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Perform exercises that increase cardiovascular health, such as aerobics, yoga and brisk walking.
Our brains consume a great deal of our bodies’ overall resources. The foods we eat directly impact the brain’s ability to function at the highest level. Eat poorly and your memory, attention and focus will suffer.
Diets with lots of fish, olive oil, fruits and vegetables have been found to deliver more omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins to both the heart and brain. Processed foods and sugars don’t provide a continual flow of nutrients, especially B vitamins. Lack of thiamin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 has been implicated in mental health issues.
Even the best diet may not provide the brain with the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients. That’s why it’s wise to consider including dietary supplements in your daily routine. A B vitamin supplement will keep levels of nutrients such as folate in optimal ranges. Another key nutrient is citicoline, which has specific effects on the health and function of nerve cells. However, we likely can’t get enough of this vital nutrient from the foods we eat.
Middle-aged women in a recent study I conducted took a citicoline supplement (Cognizin was used in this study) and saw significant improvements in their focus, attention and recall.
Get the stress out
Life seems to get more stressful with every passing day. Work requires more of our attention. Household demands never seem to ebb. Women have become the ultimate multitaskers, and it takes a toll on our brains. Stress can cause problems with heart function, immune defense and overall mental well-being.
The more we can reduce tension, the more efficiently our brains can process information and the easier it will be to keep our lives in balance. Build quiet time into each day. Meditation is a great way to relax and shut out distractions. Physical and mental exercises can help redirect negative energies into more positive outcomes.
Remember those TV commercials that showed a hot frying pan and an egg dropped in it? “This is your brain. …This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” It’s true. Toxins of all types — drugs, alcohol, pollution, and pesticides — can impact the brain’s ability to function at its highest level. We can’t avoid all the toxic things in life, but by avoiding substances that directly hurt our brains we can ensure longer and more productive brain function and better memory, attention and recall.
Challenge your brain
Like any other part of our body, the brain needs exercise. Though it benefits from physical exercise, the brain also needs mental challenges to keep it sharp. Any activity that requires deeper thought or increased focus/attention is ideal. Do a crossword or sudoku puzzle. Play memory games that are easily downloaded as mobile applications or go the old-fashioned route and buy a memory board game. There are myriad ways to stimulate the 100 billion neurons in your brain. Have fun!
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