January 7, 2009
The past year saw a rich assortment of studies linking a healthy brain to a wide array of lifestyle factors, from exercise to diet. Here's a roundup of some of the recent research, along with some simple ways to help keep your thinking sharp into 2008, and well beyond.
Take a walk. A recent study in Italy found that seniors who regularly walk and engage in other modest activities like gardening and housework lowered their risk of developing vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. The study adds to a large body of evidence that all forms of exercise, and even moderate physical activities like walking, may help to keep the brain young.
Go Mediterranean. A Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may help people with Alzheimer's disease live longer than those who eat a more traditional Western diet, researchers from Columbia University in New York reported. The findings bolster earlier research showing that the traditional diet from Italy, Greece, and other countries that lie along the Mediterranean Sea high in fiber and heart-healthy fats like olive oil, along with moderate amounts of red wine and little red meat is good for anyone at any age and may help to prevent Alzheimer's in the first place.
Think colors when it comes to diet. Harvard researchers reported that men who took supplements containing beta-carotene, an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables like carrots, cantaloupe, spinach and broccoli, had modestly lower rates of Alzheimer's disease. But studies have also shown that dietary supplements rich in individual nutrients can also pose hazards to your health. The best bet may be to eat a rich medley of colorful fruits and vegetables high in all kinds of brain-protecting antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.
Don't smoke. Need another incentive to stop smoking? You may be harming those around you far more than you may know. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley reported that long-term exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, a problem for millions of people who live or work with a smoker, increases the risk of developing dementia.
But do have a toast. Imbibing a daily glass or wine or other alcoholic drink may slow the progression to Alzheimer's disease in people with mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia. The findings, from Europe, bolster earlier evidence that alcohol, in moderation, may be good for the brain.
Celebrate with friends. People who feel lonely may be twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in their later years as those who feel they have a close network of friends and family, researchers reported. Earlier reports have shown that social interaction and stimulation helps to keep the brain fit, and that people with a limited social network and individuals who participate in few activities with others all appear to be at higher risk for dementia.
Relax. People who are easily distressed or flustered and who are prone to emotions such as anxiety and depression are more likely to develop memory problems as they age than more easygoing people, according to a recent analysis. In the study, men and women who most often experience negative emotions such as depression and anxiety were 40 percent more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who were least prone to negative emotions.
And finally, stick with your resolutions. Researchers at Rush University in Chicago reported that "conscientious" people who set goals and who are self-disciplined and productive about meeting them may be less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Conscientiousness, according to the study authors, refers to a person's tendency to control impulses and pursue a purpose and has been correlated with avoiding a wide range of mental and physical disorders.
So be conscientiousness about meeting your goals for 2008. It may help keep the brain and body vital and the memory strong for many, many years to come.