A combination of better nutrition and improved medical technology is helping us live longer, but there might be a downside. More and more people are concerned about cognitive decline as they age, and with good reason. The number of Alzheimer’s cases around the globe continues to rise at an alarming rate. Naturally, we’d like our golden years to be rich and intellectually stimulating, but can we have longevity and still retain our sharp edge? The answer is yes, but we have to work for it.
There’s been a lot written and even more rumored about how crossword puzzles and other mental challenges can improve cognitive function. However, while those approaches are logical and intuitive, new research shows that intellectual stimulation isn’t quite enough to keep our brains fully functional into old age. Specifically, scientists are finding that the best exercise for the brain may be actual, physical exercise.
The Research Is In
The more we study exercise and cognitive function, the more we confirm their close relationship. One project studied 2,800 women over age 65 to determine if physical activity boosted brainpower. It did. Participants who took brisk, 30-minute walks each day experienced slower mental decline than those who did not exercise at all. In fact, the researchers noted that the active group appeared, at least mentally, to be 5 to 7 years younger than the control group.
In another study, this time looking at people over 70, the more active group was 90 percent less likely to develop cognitive problems. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this research was the types of activity that seemed to help. In addition to normal exercise, routine actions like simply standing up and walking around were quite beneficial.
Other research has actually examined what happens to the brain when people do or do not exercise. Using MRIs, researchers examined the brains of people in their 70s. It turns out that people who exercise maintain larger brains. This is important because one of the side effects of aging is brain shrinkage, which may be related to cognitive loss. The study also showed that mentally stimulating activities had no impact on brain size.
So perhaps it’s time to put down the Sudoku puzzle and go for a walk.
Nutrition Can Help
One way exercise may improve brainpower is by strengthening the cardiovascular system. Increasing blood flow to the brain offers a significant boost to cognitive function. In addition to regular exercise, I recommend a healthy diet of lean protein, healthy fats, low-glycemic fruits, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and legumes to reduce inflammation and help maintain strong circulation. Chronic inflammation hinders circulation and can also directly affect cognitive health. So following a low-glycemic, nutrient-dense diet that offers anti-inflammatory benefits can help improve cognitive health and function.
Botanical supplements can also have a positive impact on cardiovascular and cognitive health. For example, hawthorne berry and Chinese salvia have long been used in Eastern medicine to improve circulation. The amino acid L-carnitine is an excellent antioxidant and has been shown to increase exercise capacity. The enzyme nattokinase and medicinal mushrooms support good circulation, reduce blood pressure and control cholesterol. In my practice, I recommend these ingredients together in a comprehensive cardiovascular formula.
The Magic Bullet
The more we learn about exercise, the more of its benefits are revealed. There are the obvious connections: Activity can ward off cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. But now we find it has a profound, positive impact on our mental acuity.
As always, a balanced approach is best. By combining regular exercise, healthy lifestyle habits, nutritious diet and targeted supplements, we can maximize our brainpower and overall health for a lifetime of agility and vitality.
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