We are now living longer than ever, and for that reason most of us want to live and enjoy each and every day as we age. Besides avoiding heart disease, diabetes and cancer, we also want to stay mentally sharp as we age. Yes, genetics plays a role but not as much as you think. About 80% is our own doing, or not doing, that either raises or diminishes the risk of early disease and death.
So what’s the deal….
1. Food. What goes in makes a big difference in how our cells, tissues and organs get fed. Food also determines the health of our systems that filter and get rid of toxins.
What about all these confusing diets? Should you go raw, gluten free, Paleo or vegetarian? A recent study published in December 2014 examined whether adherence to the Mediterranean Diet was associated with longer telomere length, which is a biomarker of aging. Teromeres are repetitive DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that protect chromosome integrity. In other words, if you look at DNA as a shoelace, the end of the shoelace has the telomeres. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter until theres nothing left and the cell dies. If DNA were to have a protective cap at the end of the shoelace, the telomere would not shorten with each cell division. The foods in a Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, veges, nuts, healthy fats (olive oil, avocado) and fish with anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects that may slow telomere shortening.
2. Activity. Exercise may be a dreaded word for some, but it’s so important and beneficial if you want to have healthy cognitive function in your later years. A study published in 2013 in the Annals in Internal Medicine looked at 19,000 middle aged adults and found that they were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia if they were physically fit.
3. Heart Health. Take care of your cardiovascular system. It just makes sense that having healthy vessels that carries blood and oxygen would have a positive impact on the brain. As stated above…eating well and exercise are essential for good heart health. High blood pressure and diabetes impair vessels and reduces blood flow. These conditions need to be monitored as sometimes they may be genetic and harder to control, even if you’re doing all the “right” things. And please…please don’t smoke (that includes E-cigarettes).
4. Check Your Medications. There are many medications that can impact cognitive health. Among them are some antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. Many over the counter medications are not much safer. This includes Benadryl, Dramamine, and Excedrin PM.
5. Socialize and Stay Curious. A recent study in the journal Neurology, found people who engaged in artistic hobbies such as painting, drawing or sculpture in middle and old age were 73% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who didn’t. Hobbies and quality time with family all keep the brain active.
6. Sleep. It is extremely important to get between 7-9 hours of sleep at night. Research continues to grow indicating that good sleep is the cornerstone of good health. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders show an increased risk for dementia. A 2013 Mayo Clinic study found patients with sleep disorders were 5 times more likely to have a form of dementia called Lewy Body dementia than those that did not.
7. Digestion. Our gut health is one of the most important elements in good physical and mental health. Even if we eat well, we need to make sure we absorb glucose and essential nutrients in order for the brain to function optimally. Pathogens in the gut such as Yeast (Candida), parasites or bacteria as well as food allergies can compromise absorption due to inflammation. Our brain is very sensitive to inflammatory triggers and can cause fogginess, poor memory and concentration.
We now know that aging can be affected by genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. Being proactive now will pay off later…
Reference: Firger, Jessca. CBS News., “How to protect your Aging Brain”. April 14, 2015.
Mueller, P. Mediterranean Diet is Associated with Telomere length, a Biological Marker of Aging. NEJM Journal Watch, January 2015, Vol. 20, No. 1.