Over the past decade, neuroscientists have discovered that adult brains are capable of adapting and developing new connections (neuroplasticity). By keeping your brain fit through regular mental exercises and brain challenges you can expand your capacity and prevent age-related loss of function (dementia).
What does an exercise program for your brain look like? Research supports partaking in brain games (available as apps on your smart phone), word challenges such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku, card games like bridge and learning new skills (like a new language). Challenge your brain every day.
Women are living longer than ever before. With a life expectancy of 86 years, women are outliving men and are facing unprecedented rates of health issues related to brain aging and disease. By the age of 70 years, women have a 1 in 7 chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and by 2050 there will be a doubling in the prevalence of the disease with an estimated 10 million women affected.
Emerging research is shedding light on gender-based differences in brain function and aging. High resolution functional imaging studies have shown that women's brains look and work differently when compared to their male counterparts, with dramatic differences appearing at puberty and menopause. Until now, clinical studies in the field have focused on men late in the process once disease has settled in. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By adopting a brain healthy lifestyle early on, it may be possible to preserve and enhance brain function.
The following six pillars of Brain Healthy Living can get you started on your Brain Fitness.
Exercise your Brain
Over the past decade, neuroscientists have discovered that adult brains are capable of adapting and developing new connections (neuroplasticity). By keeping your brain fit through regular mental exercises and brain challenges you can expand your capacity and prevent age-related loss of function (dementia). What does an exercise program for your brain look like? Research supports partaking in brain games (available as apps on your smart phone), word challenges such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku, card games like bridge and learning new skills (like a new language). Challenge your brain every day.
Feed your Brain
Brain development in early humans (encephalization) was achieved when humans began to acquire a shore-based diet rich in fish-derived omega 3 fatty acids (most notably DHA). In fact, it is now believed that the consumption of DHA was a pivotal event in our forebrain development. In modern times, fish consumption tracks closely with cognition and mood. Countries that consume the least fish and DHA have the highest rates of depression and dementia. DHA is found in fatty fish such as wild salmon and sardines, chia seeds and walnuts. Walnuts make the brain super food list due to their high DHA and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) content, not to mention their brain-like appearance. Also on the brain super food list are blueberries (which contain important phytonutrients like anthocyanins, quercetin and resveratrol), coffee (which provides natural caffeine and anti-oxidants), and kale (one of the most nutrient dense foods in nature, rich in anti-oxidants and tryptophan -a precursor to serotonin that supports mood).
Protect your Frame
A strong frame is required to support a healthy brain. Protect your frame and avoid the frailty syndrome by ensuring high intake of lean dietary protein and foods (not necessarily supplements) rich in the essential bone building minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Vitamin D3 is the necessary key to allow bone mineralization to occur and is not reliably found in our diet. Supplementation in aging women at higher levels (typically 2000IU and above) is required. Weight resistance training is critical to preserving both bone and muscle mass and should be performed at least 60 minutes per week.
Keep Hormones in Balance
In women, times of drastic hormonal change such as before menstruation, after the birth of a baby, and the peri-menopause years are all marked with significant disruption in mood and memory. Whether it is PMS, post-partum depression or the frequent memory loss that marks the menopause transition; hormones have a major impact on women's brains. Estrogen is integral for working memory and women with early menopause have been shown to have higher rates of dementia. However, there are many other brain active hormones such as progesterone, which balances estrogen and supports mood and sleep, and testosterone, which has direct brain effects mediated through androgen receptors. Maintaining hormone balance can be vital to ensuring a healthy brain through the later years of life.
Sleep more, Stress less
A good night's sleep is essential for a sharp brain. Sleep is a time for resting your nervous system and allowing cell renewal and DNA repair to occur. Not enough sleep can lead to a host of unfavourable health outcomes such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Inadequate sleep is trumped only by chronic stress in terms of morbidity and mortality. Chronic and extreme stress has been shown to adversely affect women's brains more so than men. So it is not surprising that stress management is key to optimal brain health and longevity. Build a toolbox full of good coping techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and Tai Chi, to help you deal with life's challenges and keep stress at bay.
New research has shown that women who have more social ties perform better on cognitive tests and have less depression. The social network becomes increasingly important for aging women who tend to outlive their male partners. Be sure to cherish your friends and stay connected to keep your brain firing on all cylinders.
As it turns out, juggling isn't just for clowns. In fact, it is actually quite good for your brain. "Juggling has been associated with increased brain volume and improved intellectual skills, as it is a great workout for your focus, coordination and speed," according to Cynthia R. Green. Get someone a juggling set and increase their brain health, while also giving them a cool new party trick.
Dancing is not only good for your heart health, but it is also good for your brain health. However, if you're like us, you avoid dancing in public at all costs. Fortunately, you can dance in the comfort of your own home with the Dance Dance Revolution DVD and games on the Nintendo Wii. "Studies have shown that dancing can improve memory and everyday performance, in addition to reducing dementia risk over the long-term," according to Dr. Cynthia R. Green.
There are lot of great cookbooks that recommend brain healthy recipes. We love "The Alzheimer's Prevention Cookbook," by Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, which came out earlier this year.
The best way to keep your brain healthy is to keep it active. Get your loved one a gift certificate for an activity that will sharpen their mind. Dr. Cynthia R. Green recommends music lessons or an activity in MAKE magazine.
Games like Simon help improve your memory, while the brain fitness software, Lumosity, gives your brain a full workout. According to Dr. Cynthia R. Green, these types of games "that we play against the clock are a proven way to maintain the intellectual skills that can change with age." However, they are also the types of games we are least likely to play as we age.
Some people just don't love a gift unless they pick it out themselves. To ensure that your loved ones are picking out brain healthy gifts, get them a gift certificate for a store full of brain healthy games and toys. Dr. Cynthia R. Green recommends Marbles the Brain Store.
Brain Teasers from Mensa and big jigsaw puzzles for the whole family are a great way to get our minds working, according to Dr. Cynthia R. Green.
No one wants to be stressed and "studies have suggested that the physiological aspects of stress may be harmful to our cognitive functioning, and could even have long term consequences to brain health." Help your loved ones relax with a gift certificate to a spa, a massage, or a relaxation CD.
Dr. Cynthia R. Green describes yoga as "the ultimate brain workout, as it provides opportunity for exercising the body, mind and soul." Sign your loved one up for a yoga class, get them a yoga mat, or buy them the Yoga Deck.
It might sound silly, but sometimes a good gift is simply your company. According to Dr. Cynthia R. Green, "Studies have shown that socializing helps us stay sharp and may lower our risk for memory loss." Take your loved one out to dinner, to a movie, to a sports game, or generally just give them an opportunity to be social.
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