Exercise, the best form of medicine
Mounting evidence supports the link between physical activity and brain health across the human lifespan. This isn’t surprising – exercise helps pump blood to the brain, and therefore oxygen. Aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping, is supposed to be particularly good for us, with a number of studies showing that it can boost both processing power but also the mass of our grey matter. It seems that exercise stimulates the release of chemicals that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Besides which, exercise boosts our mood and helps us get a good night’s sleep which can only help cognitive capacity, and it reduces stress and anxiety, which can cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Build cognitive reserve
Neuroscience research is increasingly showing that cognitive reserve will help us build and maintain mental alertness. One way to build cognitive reserve is through activities that stimulate and challenge us. This doesn’t oblige you to learn how to play chess, but it might mean that you spend less time passively watching the telly and instead, learn something new, or how to do something you know how to do but in a new way.
You could also try cognitive training. One of the first large-scale clinical trials ever conducted to investigate the usefulness of cognitive training (the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, or ACTIVE) showed that it improves cognitive function in community-dwelling older adults for up to five years, that was apparent in both cognitive tests and in daily function.
Memory training focused on improving verbal episodic memory through instruction and practice in strategy use. Reasoning training focused on improving the ability to solve problems that contained a serial pattern. Speed-of-processing training focused on processing increasingly complex information presented in successively shorter inspection times. After the five-week training period, 87 per cent of participants in speed training, 74 per cent of participants in reasoning training, and 26 per cent of participants in memory training demonstrated improvement on the respective cognitive ability.
Eat well think well
The brain can’t function without a supply of energy, in the form of glucose, which is best supplied by foods such as unrefined wholegrains, such as ‘brown’ wholegrain cereals, granary bread, brown rice and pasta. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are important for healthy brain function (as well as the heart, joints and general wellbeing).
As these aren’t made by the body they need to be sourced through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Good plant sources include linseed (flaxseed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. There is some evidence that a good intake of vitamin E might help prevent cognitive decline in older adults; nuts are an excellent source as are leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and wholegrains.
Ginkgo leaves come from the maidenhair tree and have been used to support mental alertness, clarity and focus. Ginkgo has also shown to support healthy cognitive performance in healthy individuals and for general wellbeing.
Greenridge Once Daily Ginkgo 6000 provides a high potency product, in a once daily dose. As usual, make sure you read the label and use only as directed. Supplementary to a balanced diet.
Top tips to avoid memory slips
Most of us can get a bit more forgetful with ageing, but there are some simple things you can do to prevent memory slips and help your brain learn and remember better. Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatrics at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School suggests the following:
- Follow routines, such as leaving your car keys, glasses, and cell phone in the same place every day.
- Practice mindfulness: Slow down and pay attention to what you are doing to give your brain a chance to develop an enduring memory.
- Get enough sleep, reduce stress, and check with your doctor to see if any of your medications affect memory — all three are memory spoilers.
- A 20-to-30-minute bout of moderate exercise before performing mental tasks may quicken reaction speed and sharpen decision making in people of all ages.