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Keeping the Brain Healthy – Richmond, VA

- Monday, April 25, 2016

Losing cognitive functions are a normal part of aging.

An 80-year-old may not remember as sharply as a 20-year-old, but doctors have some advice on how to keep the brain sharp and boast mental capabilities.

From exercise and diet to stress reduction, here are some ways to keep your brain young and functioning well.


Studies have shown that physical activity and exercise are associated with less cognitive decline as you age.

A recent observational study published in the American Academy of Neurology asked a group of individuals to describe their physical activity. The people in this group took a brain MRI and did cognitive testing throughout the years.

“Essentially people who recorded doing moderate to heavy physical activity actually had better cognitive performance than people who recorded doing light or no activity,” said Dr. Clinton Wright, one of the doctors who conducted the study.

Observational studies don’t prove causation, but they do support the idea.

“We know that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body including the brain and we know that more blood means more energy and oxygen.”

That makes our brain perform better and also helps make the rest of our body perform better.

Exercise helps increase the number of small blood vessels that bring blood to the brain and build the connection between the nerve cell and the brain, so those are important ways to keep your brain healthy.

It is also important to keep vascular risk factors checked and well treated. People who smoke, have hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol have shown more mental decline.

Those things damage the brain, just like they damage the heart and the kidneys. That damage to the brain has cognitive consequences.

Keep your brain active

You have to think of your brain like it’s a muscle. Exercise it.

Mental activity is the single-biggest predictor of staying sharp as you get older.

For example, if you retired at 55 and watch television all day, your brain at 60 will be like an active person’s brain at 80.

Keeping your brain active helps older people handle new challenges. Many elderly people must deal with technological difficulties like online banking and bill paying, managing medications through a website and viewing public transportation information.

Doctors advise everyone to get enough sleep, avoid stress and eat a healthy diet. These factors strongly correlate with good brain function as one ages.

“If you can do all that stuff, that’s great.” “Do as much of it as possible, it’s better than not doing it at all.”

It is also important to treat depression through antidepressant medication, stress reduction and psychotherapy.

Depression is common in older people. It’s also very treatable.

The takeaway: What’s good for the heart is often good for the brain.

For more information, contact Spring Arbor.