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Friday, August 7, 2015

The #1 Strategy to Maintain Vibrant Brain Health

Guess what helps minimize Alzheimer's risk?
As if you needed another reason to exercise: Three new studies found people with mild memory impairment who engage in vigorous workouts – we’re talking 45 minutes to an hour, three or four times a week – improve quality of life. 

“Physical activity improved mood, memory and ability to think for participants in all three studies,” researchers noted.

While participants were older (50s to 90s), these and numerous other studies clearly suggest you can never become proactive too early, and that regular, consistent exercise might be the best strategy to maintain brain health as you age.

"These findings [strongly suggest] exercise can impact Alzheimer's-related changes in the brain," said Laura Baker, lead author in one of the studies and a cognitive neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. "No currently approved medication
can rival these effects."

Earlier research likewise shows regular exercisers have decreased mental function decline and reduce their dementia risk. In fact, researchers find consistent exercise could reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s up to an impressive 50%

What’s more, an observational, eight-year study at the University of California with 6,000 older women found more physically active women were less likely to experience a decline in mental function than inactive women. 

Among its numerous brain benefits, regular exercise promotes optimal brain flow to your brain, increases chemicals that protect the brain, and reduce oxidative stress.

"Regular physical exercise is probably the best means we have of preventing Alzheimer's disease today, better than medications, better than intellectual activity, better than supplements and diet," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Alzheimer's Research Center at the Mayo Clinic, echoing Baker’s comment.

For those and a zillion other reasons, consistent exercise should become a seamless part of your day. Treat it like a high-priority client and make it happen.

Burst training and weight training are my favorites, though one study found even simple exercise like a daily walk could reduce development or progression of Alzheimer’s.

6 More Ways to Boost Brain Health

Besides exercise, you can do plenty to minimize those awkward “senior moments” where you constantly misplace your car keys or forget vital names and other information. With these six strategies, that proactive approach needn’t require turning brain health into a second hobby.

1.      Curb your sugar intake. Studies link higher-sugar diets with increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's (sometimes called "Type 3 diabetes”). Rather than go cold turkey (where you’re apt to rebound), see my friend JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet for a smart plan that gradually helps you taper off sugar.
2.     Incorporate at three brain-health foods into your diet every week. Smart choices include wild-caught fish, almonds, asparagus, berries, and omega-3 enriched eggs. For more, see Dr. Daniel Amen’s list of brain foods.
3.     Sleep sufficiently. One study that looked at 15,000 women over 14 years found those who slept too little or too much “was cognitively equivalent to aging by two years.” These women had lower mental function and also risked early Alzheimer's disease compared to those who slept a solid seven hours a night. 
4.     Control stress. Constantly staying stressed makes you miserable and takes a massive hit to brain health. Breathe and put things into perspective. Consider yoga, meditation, tapping, or whatever helps you reduce stress and maintain peace of mind.
5.     Consider brain nutrients. Beyond a solid multivitamin/ mineral with sufficient vitamin D and magnesium, quality fish oil can promote optimal brain health. If you want to step that regimen up a few notches, consider research-supported brain nutrients like alpha-GPC, acetyl-L-carnitine, and phosphatidylserine.
6.     Engage in new, mentally challenging activities. Just like biceps atrophy when you don’t regularly lift heavy, mental “heavy lifting” like learning a new language or taking a new class provide excellent ways to keep your brain on its toes, plus getting out of your mental comfort zone keeps you alive and happier.

How big is brain health for you? If dementia runs in your family, what proactive measurements do you take to reduce your risk? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.

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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!
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