More than 90% of respondents in a recent survey by the AARP reported that they think maintaining brain health is either very or extremely important, yet few people have a firm grasp on what brain health tips they should use to do that. For instance, physical activity has been shown to help keep your brain young, but only 44% of respondents cited exercise as a key factor. As these findings indicate, there seems to be some disconnect between wanting to maintain cognitive function and understanding what brain health tips will actually work to make that happen.
In an attempt to clear up some confusion and really inform adults about brain health tips for age-related cognitive health, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has just released a new report focusing on the changes that many adults will encounter as they get older. The expert panel behind the report advises that gradual changes in mental capabilities are a natural part of the aging process and can occur with anyone, albeit the extent and exact nature will differ from one person to the next. These changes may impact memory, decision making, learning, thinking speed, and problem solving skills, and although these changes are expected and do not necessarily indicate the onset of dementia, they can certainly interfere with an individual’s daily life.
That being said, there are certain steps and tips for brain health that can help to diminish or at least reduce the effects that aging can have on cognitive function. The report outlines three key steps to follow: exercise, focus on cardiovascular health, and knowledge of other conditions and/or medications.
Brain Health Tips About Exercise
Plenty of research has shown that one of the most effective ways to help keep your brain young is through physical activity, which is why the report included exercise in their list of recommended brain health tips.
For instance, one study published in a recent issue of the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that doing high- and even medium-intensity strength training workouts three times a week for 24 weeks significantly improved results on cognitive assessments for memory (both short- and long-term) and concentration. The exercisers also reported an improved quality of life after completing the exercise program. Similarly, another study showed that when men and women in their 60s and 70s did strength training exercises just twice weekly for six weeks, it improved their reaction time as well as their sense of spatial awareness, two key characteristics that keep your brain young, or at least functioning like its younger.
Cardio exercises are just as effective brain health tips. A 2013 study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed that even short aerobic exercise can improve memory performance in older adults.
These are all just a couple of the many studies demonstrating the strong connection between physical activity and brain health tips. In other words, if you want to keep your brain young, you need to get moving.
Brain Health Tips About Heart Health
The second recommendation outlined in the IOM’s list of brain health tips is cardiovascular health. The idea is that by controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol, managing your weight, and adapting heart-healthy lifestyle habits, you can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment as you get older.
This link between heart health and cognitive function has been supported by scientific research. For instance, in a 2014 study published in the journal PLOS ONE, 972 participants were assigned a “Cardiovascular Health Score” based on a variety of factors, including body mass index, fitness level, diet, cholesterol, and blood pressure. The findings showed that a higher Cardiovascular Health Score, or improved heart health, was associated with improved cognitive performance. The researchers concluded that tips for maintaining heart health, such as quitting smoking, also double as brain health tips, because the two are intertwined.
Brain Health Tips About Other Medical Conditions and Medications
The third recommendation from IOM’s report to help keep your brain young is to gain a better understanding about how other conditions that can impact cognitive functioning—stroke and diabetes are both linked to possible cognitive deficits.
Brain health tips should also include being aware of any medications that can interfere with cognition. Commonly used antihistamines, narcotic painkillers, statins (to lower cholesterol), and sleeping aids have all been shown to cause some form of memory loss. Even if it’s a temporary reaction, it’s still important to stay on top of it and always discuss the possible side effects with a health professional.
“As the population of older Americans grows, so will the effects of cognitive aging on society,” said the president of the AARP. “By calling attention to this issue, we can learn more about the risk and protective factors and needed research so older adults can better maintain their cognitive health to the fullest extent possible.”
“Brain Health Important To 93% Of Americans, But Few Know The 5 Ways To Help Maintain Or Improve It,” PRNewswire web site, January 20, 2015; http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/brain-health-important-to-93-of-americans-but-few-know-the-5-ways-to-help-maintain-or-improve-it-300022574.html.
Chapman, S.B., “Shorter term aerobic exercise improves brain, cognition, and cardiovascular fitness in aging,” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 2013; doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2013.00075.
Crichton, G.E. et al., “Cardiovascular health and cognitive function: the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study,” PLOS ONE 2014; 9(3): doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089317.
Neel, A.B., “10 Drugs That May Cause Memory Loss,” AARP web site, May 10, 2013; http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-05-2013/drugs-that-may-cause-memory-loss.html.
Painter, K., “Expert advice: Do 3 things to protect your aging brain,” USA Today web site, April 14, 2015; http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/04/14/aging-brain-advice-iom/25759829/.
Preidt, R., “To Protect Your Aging Brain, Start With Exercise,” WebMD web site, April 14, 2015; http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/20150414/to-protect-your-aging-brain-start-with-exercise.
Wolk, V., “This Is How A Dumbbell Can Make You Smarter,” Prevention web site, January 7, 2015; http://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/workouts-and-brain-health.
Zelinski, E.M., “Do medical conditions affect cognition in older adults?” Health Psychology 1998; 17(6): 504-512.