Haims: Healthy diet and mentally challenging activities cruicial to brain health (column) | VailDaily.com

Haims: Healthy diet and mentally challenging activities cruicial to brain health (column)

Judson Haims
Special to the Daily

Selectively or not, we all forget things. Sometimes, our memory is challenged because we have so much going on. Other times, our memory may falter because of the natural process of aging. However, it's not all bad news. We can promote better brain health and memory.

While we live in an era where there is a pill for almost everything, there is no pill that definitively cures or betters one's memory. Until the illusive memory cure arrives, the answer to maintaining and promoting better memory may be physical exercise, reading, diet, maintaining proper blood pressure and cholesterol and participating in social and cultural activities.

Our memory naturally wanes as we advance in age. There are many contributing factors for memory loss; some are preventable and others are not. Research has found that one of the factors we have little influence over is brain shrinkage. While the brain will naturally lose mass with age, studies show that keeping the brain physically and mentally active lends to a slowdown of the degenerative process. This is known as brain maintenance.

Reduced blood flow caused by narrowing of the arteries and a decrease in the growth of new capillaries is also a major contributing factor to cognitive decline. Two parts of the brain that are particularly affected are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are important for learning, memory, planning and other complex mental activities.

Cardiovascular disease, chronic stress and high cholesterol all lend themselves to reducing blood and oxygen flow within the brain. This is why many physicians and researchers support exercise, a healthy diet and mentally challenging activities as beneficial in maintaining a healthy brain.

The following five tips are proving to improve brain function and memory:

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1. Moderate exercise. Whatever form of exercise you choose, do it for at least a half hour a day.

2. Cook healthy meals. While people have opinions and personal preferences, few would dispute that the DASH, MIND and Mediterranean diets are extremely beneficial and easier to incorporate into one's lifestyle that more restrictive diets.

3. Pay attention to blood pressure and cholesterol. If diet and exercise don't get you within a healthy range, look for (quality) supplements or speak to your doctor about prescription medications. Neglecting these concerns will rob you of more than your memory — they will rob you of life.

4. Spend time being social. Whether in small numbers or large social groups, a social network has mental and physical benefits.

5. Read and play brain games. Simply, the brain is a muscle. Use it or lose it.

At some point over the next few days when you're bored or just need a distraction, do an internet search for "brain health." I assure you, you will be intrigued with the information you find.

Don't wait until the signs of cognitive decline appear. Be proactive now. Good brain health is something that needs to be thought about as a lifetime commitment. Stimulating the neurochemistry of the brain helps it stay healthy.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.