Health Tips | Boosting your brain, living longer

December 3, 2010 by David Despain

LIVING LONGER

Check your BMI (Body Mass Index). A healthy BMI between 20 and 24.9 is generally best for avoiding disease and living longer (calculate your BMI) [NEJM]. 

Eat dark green and orange vegetables daily. They contain alpha-carotene (a cousin to vitamin A), an antioxidant compound that protects your cells and your health by lowering your risk of heart disease, cancer and other causes of death [Arch Intern Med].

If you must smoke, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. You lower your risk of lung cancer for every two daily servings of different colored fruits and vegetables, and by a whopping 23 percent when you eat more than eight servings daily [CEBP].

BRAIN BOOSTERS

Quit smoking; feel better (Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University)

Go ahead and add a little sugar to your coffee. The combination of caffeine and glucose enhances your brain’s performance and keeps your memory working smoothly [Hum Psychopharmacol].

Quit smoking. It thins brain areas related to impulse control, which worsens your addiction [Biological Psychiatry]. Another reason: quitting makes you happier [Brown University].

Say no to high fat and cholesterol. In chronically high amounts in the diet, these could damage memory and learning centers in the brain, which leads to Alzheimer’s disease (as shown in rats) [Molecular Cellular Neuroscience].

Why you need vitamin D for your brain (especially in winter months). The “sunshine vitamin” has a big role in the brain, in development, function, and protection. When you’re young (ages 15-40), low amounts can lead to depression [International Archives of Medicine]. After age 80, at least for women, getting enough weekly is crucial for maintaining cognitive skills [Neurology].

VITAMIN D HEALTH DEBATES

How much vitamin D should you get? The Institute of Medicine just raised the recommended daily amounts of vitamin D to 600 International Units (IU) for ages 1-70 and to 800 IU for ages 70 and older [Food and Nutrition Board]. But leading vitamin D experts think you need more like 2000-5000 IU [Vitamin D Council]. The most accurate way to know if you’re getting enough: ask your doctor to test the amount of circulating vitamin D (calcidiol) in your blood (25-hydroxyvitamin D test) [MedlinePlus].

EXERCISE

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Walk to prevent Alzheimer’s and osteoarthritis. Five miles per week keeps your brain from shrinking and protects its key memory and learning centers, improving your brain’s resistance to disease and preventing  memory loss over time [Radiology Society of North America]. This light exercise is also not as strenuous on joints, which helps maintain healthy cartilage in joints and prevent osteoarthritis [Radiology Society of North America].

Run to age gracefully. It can increase the number of stem cells in muscles, which explains why older folks who run regularly look younger as they get older [Plos One]. Elderly who run marathons can often outrun younger counterparts and outlive most in their generation by at least four years [Deutsches Aerzteblatt International]

Hit the weights. Strength training builds muscle, and when combined with aerobic exercise leads to better blood sugar control, as shown in people with type 2 diabetes [JAMA]. The combination also enhances circulation, which improves complications of deep vein thrombosis, such as leg swelling caused by damage to veins [Can Med Assoc J].

PREVENTION AND SELF-TREATMENT

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Suffer from chronic fatigue? Re-energize with dark chocolate (the darker the better). Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which can help you avoid fatigue and memory loss [Nutr J]. 

Are you giving your child antibiotics? They kill healthy bacteria that are good for the gut. Add in probiotic yogurt (look for products containing “live cultures”) or supplements, both of which can help prevent antibiotics-induced diarrhea in children [Pediatrics].

Eat seafood to protect your eyes. One or two servings of fish or shellfish (high in omega-3 fatty acids) per week (or other omega-3 sources) can help prevent advanced age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness [Ophthalmology].

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