Regardless of your age, there are plenty of things you can start doing today that will help reduce age-related cognitive decline and improve the overall health of your brain. Lite n’ Easy Dietitian Suzanne Pearson explains how.
Forgot your wallet? Misplaced your keys? Walked into a room and can’t remember what for. These are all signs of cognitive decline and are a natural part of ageing. Age-related cognitive declines most commonly include slowness in thinking and difficulties sustaining attention, multitasking, holding memory and word-finding.
Like any high-performance machine, your brain needs top-quality fuel to function well.
The MIND diet was designed by medical researchers to help reduce the risk of dementia and loss of brain function as you age.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This mouthful of a diet combines aspects of two well-researched and well-regarded diets – the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
Many experts consider these diets as some of the healthiest. And research shows their ability to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease, and diabetes.
The MIND diet also supports specific aspects of cognitive function, including memory and retention.
The best part is, you can reap all the benefits of this diet without much cognitive strain.
The MIND diet encourages eating plant-based foods and is easy to follow:
Enjoy leafy greens (like spinach, kale, salads and the like), other veggies and whole grains (like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-grain bread and pasta) and nuts most days of the week.
Beans and berries several times and week.
Fish and poultry a couple of times a week.
You can even enjoy a glass of wine on the MIND diet. Aim for no more than one glass a day.
Limit intake of red meat, sweets, cheese, butter/margarine and fast/fried food.
Don’t fret if you are unable to consume the targeted serving amounts. Research shows that following the MIND diet, even a moderate amount is associated with brain-rewarding benefits.
You already know regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your body healthy. Regular activity supports weight management and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. But did you know that exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy brain?
Regular exercise can increase activity in parts of the brain important for memory and thinking. This may be because exercise helps prevent the shrinkage of areas of the brain associated with memory. There is even some evidence that exercise stimulates the growth of new connections between cells in important areas of the brain.
The brain is highly dependent on oxygen to function optimally. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, which is vital in supporting cognitive processes, like learning and memory.
Though much of the research looks at aerobic activities, there is evidence to suggest that strength training also supports brain health so a combination of both may offer the greatest benefits.
Enjoy a variety of aerobic exercises daily. Aerobic literally means ‘with oxygen’ and includes activities like:
Incidental day-to-day activities count as well. Such as intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat.
Aim for around 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week and muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week.
Or for something different learn to dance! The creativity, dexterity and rhythm involved in dance activate many parts of the brain and can even create new neural pathways. Two left feet or not, anyone can learn to dance making it a great option for maintaining brain health.
Like any other part of your body, the more you use it, the better it will be. There are plenty of ways you can train your brain to keep it in tip-top shape. To stay mentally active try taking a new route when driving to work, learn a new language, pick up a new sport or skill or brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. These are great ways to challenge the mind daily. To sharpen your cognitive skills get stuck into:
a good read
reciting the alphabet backwards
It’s never too late to incorporate brain-enhancing behaviours into your daily routine and reap the long-term health benefits.