From Kaiser Permanente:
Most of us know the brain is like a muscle. But how do we keep it fit, exactly? Learn brain-strengthening tips during “Keeping Your Brain Healthy,” the latest Health Talks Online, featuring Nancy Hoffman, PsyD.
As a neuropsychologist at Kaiser Permanente Union City who’s also chair of the California Psychology Association’s Geriatric Neuropsychology Committee, Dr. Hoffman knows how to keep the brain in top condition. She will share her insider’s knowledge to maximizing brain power in an online discussion Wednesday.
“Keeping Your Brain Healthy” https://www.signup4.net/public/ap.aspx?EID=20111274E&OID=173 is scheduled for Wednesday, July 11, at 12:30 p.m.
Why are you so interested in brain health?
I am seeing so many patients having what I call lifestyle-related cognitive impairment, meaning their ability to think, reason and remember is compromised. What I mean is that the lifestyle—eating, sleeping, and exercise habits or whether they are engaged intellectually—is very unhealthy, and that results in cognitive impairment, especially as they get into their late 40s and early 50s. When you are younger, you can get away with all sorts of unhealthy habits without it affecting your cognition as much.
How much memory do we lose as we age?
Supposedly, memory loss is not necessarily a normal part of aging. My neighbor is 95, she lives alone and she has a better memory than I do. We can get more forgetful as we get older but it’s not a given.
When should we start paying attention to our brain’s health?
Today. It’s never too early. Researchers think Alzheimer’s disease starts 20 years before we see any real signs of it. Research shows that people who are active emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually can have a lot more neural connections in their brains because they are regularly developing them. Ideally, brain cells connect and communicate—that’s what our brain does when it’s healthy, and we’re learning new things. It's these connections that keep our brain in good working order.
What’s the number one action we can take to boost our brain health?
Exercise is the only activity supported by research that seems to create strong connections in the brain. Given that, we recommend you exercise 30 minutes three times a week, maintaining your heart rate up to 120 beats a minute for at least 20 minutes.
Does research support software brain exercises or brain-strengthening foods currently being marketed?
There’s no research that says those computer games work, but people who use them seem to like them. And research has not proven certain foods, ones with Omega-3 and antioxidants, will prevent dementia. But if something is good for our body, then it will probably be good for our brain. On the other hand, if our lifestyle is overall unhealthy, it’s not going to help just to eat certain foods.
Can you restore brain health?
Once you have cognitive problems you can’t reverse them unless there’s an underlying reason. Thyroid, depression, and low vitamin B12 can cause dementia and can be treated. If it’s a true neurodegenerative disorder, there’s no reversing it. Don’t wait until you are ill to do something.
Can we actually improve our cognition or even ward off dementia?
Genetics account for only 30 percent of our brain health. But our lifestyle contributes about 70 percent to our brain health, so we have a lot of control over that. If you keep your brain healthy and active by learning new things, staying active, and keep healthy in general, you won’t show as many outward signs of cognitive deterioration, even if there are some present.