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Published on: January 17, 2012
by Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD for Appetite For Health:
I read a report a week or so ago that mentioned that we start to lose our mental capacity and memory in our 40s! I thought uh-oh that’s a little to close to comfort for me…and it made me think about what I can do to help ensure that I’m doing all I can to keep my neurons healthy as I age.
Research reported in the British medical journal, BMJ, found that women in their mid- to late-40s exhibited a 3.6% decline in reasoning compared to declines of an average of 7.4% in the 60s-70s.
We’ll all experience some memory loss in our lifetime, but this study suggests that mental capacity may begin to decline earlier than expected. While that’s not good news, there are things we can all do to preserve what we have. Over the past two decades, researchers around the world have been trying to identify what lifestyle activities associated with the healthiest brains of older subjects. Not surprising because the brain is so vascular, that the research shows that a diet that is heart-smart is also good for your brain’s health.
Here are five steps to bolster your brain power with good nutrition and other lifestyle changes.
1. Make Mediterranean Meals: Your total diet is going to be more important than the amount of a single nutrient, like selenium or vitamin D, for keeping your brain sharp as it can be. It appears that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and beans and lower in meats, high-fat dairy and sweets is associated with reduced risk of dementia or neurological declines. This diet approach is essentially following a Mediterranean diet compared to a more typical American diet. The Mediterranean diet should serve as your foundation for keeping a healthy heart and brain into old age.
2. Up Your Antioxidants: Eating antioxidant-rich foods are thought to help with memory too. The foods richest in antioxidants include nuts, herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables and coffee and tea. Because many antioxidant compounds enter the bloodstream quickly and are eliminated from the body relatively fast too, to maintain high levels of antioxidants, it’s best to eat these types of AOX-rich choices at your meals and snacks. When choosing fruits and vegetables, one way to get more antioxidants per bite would be to choose from a broad range of deeply colored options, from blueberries and strawberries to carrots, squash and citrus.
3. Get More Omega 3s: The long-chain omega 3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA that come primarily from fish and seafood or supplements comprise much of our brain tissue and are known to be important for maintaining cognitive function. A good rule of thumb to get 250-500 mg/day of EPA and DHA each. This can be eaten on one day or through the course of the week by eating two or more fish servings. The American Heart association provides specific guidelines for those with heart disease or with high triglycerides.
4. Watch Your Weight And Waist: Several studies show a correlation between overweight and declines in cognitive function and memory loss. Most studies point to excess body fat in the belly or a waist circumference that is in excess of most guidelines. One study found that a high waist-to-hip ratio greater than .80 in midlife doubled the risk for dementia in old age. For women, strive to keep your waist to hip ratio less than .80.
5. Be Physical: It’s probably no surprise that studies show that adults who remain active are less likely to develop dementia and retain faster mental processing speed and better memory compared to adults who don’t exercise.
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