Keeping your mind sharp and healthy is an important part of better health. This is something we become more aware of as we age – Australians aged 65+ are more than twice as likely as those aged under 35 to be concerned about mental fitness.
Professor Ralph Martins, who has spent over 30 years working to help uncover ways to prevent and slow the onset of dementia, shares five ways to keep your brain in shape.
Moderate exercise has been shown to help preserve memory. Even 30-40 minutes of brisk walking, three or four times a week, can make a difference, and increased intensity is likely to further enhance this benefit. Exercise, like sleep, is thought to play a major role in helping the brain get rid of toxic substances that kill brain cells. Whatever your age, it is never too late to start gentle exercise.
2. Healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight and composition is also protective against the ravages of this disease. Increased abdominal fat has now been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Paying attention to diet and exercise can assist this.
One of the keys here is reducing cholesterol and saturated fats, and Australian research has demonstrated the benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet for this and general well-being. This type of diet is high in antioxidants with a focus on fresh foods, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, fruit, a moderate amount of lean meat and 2-3 serves of oily fish per week. Highly processed food, salt and saturated fats should be limited and regarded more as treats.
This diet also helps maintain an adequate consumption of certain important vitamins, particularly the B group – contained in lean meats and eggs, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.
4. Alcohol and smoking
Red wine contains a compound called resveratrol which may be have some health benefits – however, wine and alcohol should always be drunk in moderation. Smoking is to be avoided – it can undo the best efforts with diet and exercise as well as having its own intrinsic harms.
5. Social and mental stimulation
Social and mental stimulation also helps the brain. Staying active is important, whether this is through a social activity as simple as catching up with friends, helping out in the community, or even learning a new language. Activities that combine skills such as dancing (physical movement and concentrating on the music) seem to bring added benefits.