Keeping Your Brain Buffed

Keeping your brain healthy and working at its best should be a priority. Science offers some tips on keeping your memory in top form.

Fuel for Thought

Many people talk about “brain food” when they refer to fish, blueberries or whatever fad food currently has the memory claim. But, Carol Greenwood, a senior scientist at Baycrest Research Centre for Aging and the Brain in Toronto, Ont., recommends not focusing too much on a single food component but on the whole healthy diet.

Lose the Fat, Keep the Brain

“From an overall perspective the healthier you keep the part of your body south of the blood brain barrier healthy the healthier your brain will be,” says Greenwood. “Specifically, a lot of the obesity associated diseases, particularly high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type two diabetes, are all detrimental to the function of the brain.”

In fact, Greenwood says that if you looked at the brain of someone with type two diabetes, you might see a brain functioning like that of someone 10-20 years older.

Greenwood has also done research that shows a significant memory decline immediately after an especially unhealthy meal high in fat and simple carbohydrates. She refers to this type of unhealthy meal as a “metabolic tsunami” for your brain and memory.

Puzzle Me This

The old adage of “use it or lose it,” is very true for brain function and memory. While there have been video games and all kinds of brain exercise strategies that have been commercialized in recent years, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to give your memory a workout.

Kelly Murphy, a clinical neuropsychologist at Baycrest, has studied how individuals with some memory loss can improve their memory. She finds that learning new things and problem-solving are most important.

“Adults in intellectually stimulating types of leisure activities tend to do better on tests of learning and memory. If they are destined to get dementia they get it at an older age,” said Murphy. “So there’s something protective about using your intellectual abilities. The idea here is that the more you have, the more you can afford to lose. If a little bit is declining, then the affects of that disease will not manifest for longer because you have a bigger cognitive reserve to draw from.”

Finding intellectually stimulating activities can mean anything from playing chess or doing the daily crossword to learning a musical instrument or practicing tai chi. In fact, taking up something like yoga or dancing might actually offer the most benefit because not only are you learning new steps that you must remember, but you are also being social and physically active.

Eat well, play hard and you’ll keep your head healthy.

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