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Ways to Keep Your Mind Healthy and Sharp

- Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We expect our joints and lungs to slowly decline as we age, but the thought of our minds doing the same is scary. Here are some ideas to help prevent brain decline.

Scientists are starting to think that regular aerobic exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for the long-term health of your brain. While the heart and lungs respond loudly to  the treadmill, the brain is quietly getting fitter with each step, too. For mental fitness, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every other day.

Too much or too little energy throws a kink in the brain’s delicate machinery. A low glycemic diet — high fiber, with moderate amounts of fat and protein — is broken down more slowly in the body. A steady pace of digestion in the gut gives a more reliable flow of energy to the brain, optimizing the organ’s long-term health and performance.

Largely preventable diseases — such as Type II diabetes, obesity and hypertension — affect your brain. System-wide health concerns have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and memory impairments. Keeping your circulatory system in working order by avoiding cigarettes and saturated fat, lessens the onslaught of age-related brain wear and tear.

When we don't sleep, proteins build up on synapses, possibly making it hard to think and learn new things. Furthermore, chronically sleeping poorly (in contrast to not enough) is linked to cognitive decline in old age, although the relationship may not be causal.

Growing evidence suggests a caffeine habit may protect the brain. According to large longitudinal studies, two to four perk-me-ups a day may stave off normal cognitive decline and decrease the incidence of Alzheimer's by 30 to 60 percent. It is unclear whether the benefits come from caffeine or the antioxidants found in coffee and tea, but that latte may improve cognition this afternoon and several decades from now.

Some theories credit the introduction of fish into the human diet with the evolution of our tremendous cognitive ability. Fatty acids, such as Omega 3s, are critical to brain function and are proving beneficial for treating such brain-sapping ailments as depression. Studies on the efficacy of Omega 3 supplements, however, have had mixed results, so get doses from food sources, such as flax seeds, fatty fish and grass-fed animals.

Stress takes a toll on the brain by washing harmful chemicals over the hippocampus and other brain areas involved in memory. Some scientists suspect that living a balanced lifestyle and pursuing relaxing activities such as yoga, socializing and crafting may delay memory impairment by reducing stress.

Whether crossword puzzles, sudoku and other brain teasers actually keep your brain in shape, has not been well-established. However, lack of education is a strong predictor of cognitive decline. The more you've tried to learn, the better you'll be at mental sit-ups in old age. 

Information from Live Science