In the US, we are obsessed with youth. Marketers’ dedication to it can’t help but make us think that something is wrong with getting old. In this series, I want to focus less on what US culture defines as “anti-aging,” and more into caring for ourselves, preparing and living our all-around best in our second half of life. Let’s stop focusing on how we look through our life span, and consider how we can increase our health span.
In high school, college, and in my first “real” jobs, I worked in skilled care facilities. I had the pleasure of serving those in their second half of life, most in their last years, as an activity coordinator, and later as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) when I considered returning to school to pursue a nursing degree. I witnessed the impact of aging on hundreds of individuals, including when the extreme loss of cognitive function occurs, resulting in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
I also have studied the impact of peri/menopause on brain function, and have discussed the implications with many athletes and friends. I offer a listening ear and some simple suggestions. I also think I have started to experience some brain fog myself, but it is so minimal that I can honestly not tell if I am just tired, or out of focus due to the swirling world around me.
Yet still, until recently, I naively and ignorantly give very little thought to what I can do to increase the health span of my brain. Why?
These diseases don’t “run in my family.”
My brain is challenged daily— not much else I can do.
I will cross that brain fog bridge if I get to it.
Sound familiar? Well, I am here to debunk these ways of thinking. And, if you do have a history of cognitive function loss, this is definitely for you. One thing is true for all of us:
Your mind matters.
Before I give you some tips on how to increase the health span of one of your most important organs, let me tell you a couple things that will hopefully compel you to keep reading. First of all, your brain ages, increasing the chance of Alzheimer’s no matter if you have a family history, or not.
According to statics from Prime Time Health by William Sears, MD:
- The average brain loses about 50% of its 15 billion brain cells between the ages of 20 and 95.
- The brain, like a muscle, shrinks as we age.
- Mental ability declines by the average of 20% between ages 40 and 70.
- Almost 360,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s disease are reported each year in the US.
- About 60% if the brain is fatty tissue, which is more susceptible to the wear and tear of oxidative stress than other tissues.
- The brain is the organ most vulnerable to excessive inflammation. (Excessive inflammation = aging. More on this in later weeks.
- As we age, the cerebral mechanisms that protect the brain cells from stress gets weaker. The aging brain simply cannot cope with the challenges of stress as well as it used to!
Want to keep your brain fresh? Train for a triathlon, and embrace learning new skills, with loads of exposure to new technology. And, the added bonus is that it positively impacts other areas of aging as well, as long as you care for, and support, your body. Am I biased? Yes 😉
Thankfully, there are (more) things (other than train and race triathlon) we can do to increase the health span of our brain, including navigating the challenging season of brain fog for females.
- Smart eating. The brain is the organ most affected by what we eat. I could write a whole blog on this topic, but I will sum it up as best I can in today’s short message. Eat omega-3s and balance the amount with omega-6s. Some research indicates that eating wild caught salmon just 2Xs per week provides the omega-3s needed for a healthy brain (including boosting your mood!). Adjust your oils to use those high in omega-3s, rather than omega-6s. Pay close attention to not only what you cook with, but also what is in your convenience foods!
- Also eat blueberries, nuts, greens, lentils, artichokes, chickpeas, and “smart” carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (your brain NEEDS carbs), Some scientists are calling Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 Diabetes.” Graze more. Keep your blood sugar stable to keep your brain sugar stable. (More specifics on this later too!)
- Exclude additives. Have you ever traveled outside of the US, and felt like you had clearer thinking? Or, if you don’t live in the US, do you feel foggy while you visit? There is a reason that so many of these toxic substances are banned in other countries. And, even if you think that they “don’t affect you now”— they are internally wreaking havoc. Limit your exposure to partially hydrogenated oils, aspartame, MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, BHA, sodium nitrate and nitrite, propyl gallate, acesulfame potassium, sodium benzoate, potassium bromate, artificial colors, and BHT.
- Move. According to Dr. Sears’ research, regular exercise can decrease the risk of dementia by 50% for various reasons. Fitness slows age-related cognitive decline. Moving matters for your mind.
- Keep Calm. Laughter is the best medicine. Did you know that on average kids laugh 400 times a day, and adults only 15?! This was a shocking sort-of-scientifc stat for me to read. But, I believe it, especially in the US. We are so dang intent on taking everything seriously and personally; grinding daily; and being wound up stress balls until the day we get to retire our beat down exhausted brains and bodies. Take some time to pause during the day to expose yourself to humor. And learn to laugh at yourself!
- Exercise your brain. It is true that your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. But, this doesn’t only mean that it is enough for you to do one crossword or word find daily. In order to exercise your brain, you have to challenge it from where it is. This includes challenging yourself outside of your comfort zone. You can also exercise your brain by increasing proprioceptive abilities and focusing on neuromuscular connection– creating a stronger body to move more and better… which is good for the brain… what a wonderful positive feedback loop!
- Females: with age comes the menopause transition. We are biodiverse, so while the severity of symptoms varies, all women who live longer will go through this change. And for some, this includes experiencing brain fog. Click here for tips for battling brain fog.
There is a lot of information here, but I want to basically plead with you to consider it all. Increasing the health span of our brains is vital to living healthier longer. Making some small changes can have a big impact!
Okay, my brain hurts. 😉
A lot of information is from Prime Time Health by William Sears, MD