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Over 50? Challenge your brain every day to prevent cognitive decline




Embrace new activities


… some tips from Harvard Health


As we age, which means moving over the age of 40, our brain functions will not work at the same level as they had previously. That can be a challenge for those who move into their 60s and 70s and 80s.


So, the question becomes, “What can be do to slow cognitive decline?”


For me, exercise is one key, but reading is another. For people from families in which members have suffered from dementia, this becomes every more vital.


That is one of a number of reasons that I returned to the workplace, so to speak. In late spring, I started tutoring students from grade 7 to graduate school primarily in English, but also in some other subjects.


What else can we do to prevent this decline?


Use your brain.


How?


A release from Harvard Health earlier this year gave some ideas about this,


Your brain has the ability to learn and grow as you age — a process called brain plasticity — but for it to do so, you have to train it on a regular basis.

"Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane and thinking and memory will be more challenging, so you need to build up your reserve," says Dr. John N. Morris, director of social and health policy research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging Research. "Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best way.s.


“Train your brain,” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard

Medical School, February 15, 2021


Can these be physical or intellectual? Well, the reality is that both may suffice,

Your brain has the ability to learn and grow as you age — a process called brain plasticity — but for it to do so, you have to train it on a regular basis.


List of factors


In an earlier release, Harvard listed a variety of areas in which people can work to prevent cognitive decline. Some of these have already been mentioned, but others have not.


Exercise


Exercise offers an impressive array of health benefits. It helps prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes; lowers the risk for high blood pressure, colon cancer, and breast cancer; and helps relieve insomnia, anxiety, and depression. In addition, it may help ward off cognitive decline and dementia. Plus, some studies have shown that engaging in a program of regular exercise improved cognitive function in people who already had memory problems. Exercise may be particularly advantageous for people who carry the APOE4 gene variant, which makes people more susceptible to Alzheimer's.


“Protecting against cognitive decline,” Harvard Health Publishing,

Harvard Medical School, January 2, 2021


I am not certain what the APOE4 gene variant is, but since I know this, I think that it is worthwhile researching that.


A Mediterranean-style diet


A Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil, and includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy products, while limiting red meat. This eating pattern has long been recognized as promoting better cardiovascular health ,lowering the risk of certain cancers, and may protect against cognitive decline. A Mediterranean diet also appears to lower the risk of developing MCI and slow the progression to dementia in people who have the condition.


Sleep


Getting consistent, good-quality sleep is known to improve overall health and may prevent cognitive decline. Our bodies rely on a certain amount of regular sleep for a variety of essential functions, many of them in the brain. Studies have shown that people who regularly sleep less than the recommended seven to eight hours a night score lower on tests of mental function. This may be because learning and memories are consolidated during sleep.


Mental stimulation


Many researchers believe that education level is less important in maintaining a healthy brain than the habit of staying mentally active as you age. In one study, mentally intact people in their 70s and 80s were asked how often they did six activities that required active mental engagement—reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, engaging in group discussions, and playing music. In the following five years, those who placed in the highest third in terms of how often they engaged in mentally stimulating activities were half as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment as those in the lowest third. An earlier report found a similar link between brain-stretching activities and a lower risk of Alzheimer's.


Social contacts


Social interaction can have profound effects on your health and longevity. In fact, there's evidence that strong social connections may be as important as physical activity and a healthy diet. Strong social interactions can help protect your memory and cognitive function in several ways as you age. Research shows that people with strong social ties are less likely to experience cognitive declines than those who are alone. By contrast, depression, which often goes hand in hand with loneliness, correlates to faster cognitive decline.


In addition, having a strong network of people who support and care for you can help lower your stress levels. Social activities require you to engage several important mental processes, including attention and memory, which can bolster cognition. Frequent engagement helps strengthen neural networks, slowing normal age-related declines. It may also help strengthen cognitive reserve, which can delay the onset of dementia.


“Protecting against cognitive decline,” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, January 2, 2021


Is drinking a little alcohol helpful?


Not really. In fact, this little tidbit is worth noting,


In the JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] study, heavy drinkers—defined as more than four drinks per day or 14 per week for men and more than three drinks per day or seven per week for women—had a 22% higher Alzheimer's risk than the nondrinkers.


“Protecting against cognitive decline,” Harvard Health Publishing,

Harvard Medical School, January 2, 2021



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