What’s one of the top worries I hear from women about aging and getting older? Brain health! Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or cognitive decline in ourselves or our loved ones. Our hopes and dreams for the future are built around healthy, capable, strong minds and bodies. Minds that can make decisions, be independent and learn new things. Both our freedom in and enjoyment of life can be negatively impacted by declines in our brain health.
While you can’t control all of the risk factors related to brain health, there are many lifestyle factors you can do something about. Physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress, and staying socially connected are some of the ways you can have a positive impact on your brain health. Let’s dive into 3 specific actions you can take now to protect your brain health and your future.
1. Incorporate healthy fats into your diet, specifically omega-3s. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood and ALA is mainly found in plant-based oils (think nuts and seeds). DHA is particularly important for brain health. Studies have shown that individuals with diets rich in DHA have improved cognition, brain plasticity (making new connections in the brain!) and even greater recovery after injury.
2. Get aerobic exercises. Strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise but know, that in some large studies, even a relatively low level of exercises (say 2 hours of walking per week) made a difference in cognitive decline. In one large research project called the Nurses’ Health study, those with the highest level of exercise had a 20% lower chance of demonstrating cognitive impairment on memory and intelligence tests.
“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body."
John Ratey, MD.
3. Lift weights. The relationship between strength training and brain health has not been studied as deeply as that of aerobic exercise (it’s easy to get rats to run on a wheel, not so easy to get them to do squats :) ) but there is new evidence out there to suggest that strength training may improve mild cognitive impairment associated with some types of neuroinflammatory diseases. It may also increase human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor both of which support processes related to brain energy metabolism, learning and memory. Two or three sessions of resistance training per week was the most commonly recommended minimum frequency.
When in comes to worries, even worries about health and well-being, I am a fan of taking action. Dale Carnegie said “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage" and I couldn't agree more. Small actions, like one walk, one set of squats and one serving of fish a week, can have a monumental impact on the enjoyment of our lives and our health.