Everyone ages, but have you noticed that no two people age in the same way? Some people experience dramatic memory loss as they grow older, while others remain cognitively fit. Some experts say that diet is key, while others emphasise exercise and keeping active. Both factors have an impact on how your brain will age, but you may ask, which is more important to keep your brain healthy? Well, it turns out it depends on your genetic makeup.
Researchers from Kings College, London in the United Kingdom recently found that changes in lifestyle such as diet and exercise can “delay a decline in memory and thinking but that the effectiveness of these approaches will depend on the genetic makeup of each person.” In a study they published earlier this month, people with a particular genetic variant of GRB10 were found to benefit from consuming a Mediterranean diet, while those with variations in gene SIRT1 benefited more from physical exercise.
You may talk to your doctor about getting your DNA tested to know which- diet or exercise- will have more impact on your aging process. But regardless, here are some ways to help keep your brain healthy:
- Consume a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olives/ olive oil and fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, and nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, etc. Click here to read more about the benefits of nuts.).
- Exercise regularly. According to Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of Harvard Health Letter, “exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.” According to a study done at the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Interestingly, resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not yield the same results. “… Engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Regular exercise can reduce insulin resistance as well as inflammation, both of which have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Staying active also improves mood and sleep while reducing stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas commonly cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
- If you are experiencing memory loss, mental decline or cognitive impairment, find a healthcare practitioner who will work with you in addressing your concerns. According to Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor of neurology at University of California, Los Angeles, Alzheimer’s disease is a result of what happens when the brain tries to protect itself from inflammation (from infection, diet, stress, etc), a shortage or decline of supportive nutrients and hormones and/ or toxic substances such as metals or moulds.
He suggests testing for insulin resistance, certain nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, heavy metal toxicity, food sensitivities/ intolerances and genetic status particularly for APO E4 (*see below), all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bredesen believes that by correcting and rebalancing these factors, the cognitive decline of early Alzheimer’s can be prevented and even reversed in some cases. Dr. Ardyce Yik offers such testing in her clinic.
- Get enough sleep! Sleep plays a vital role in brain function and helps you consolidate your memories. Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, seek a healthcare practitioner who will address the cause and not just give you a quick fix. Sleeping pills can compromise cognitive function. Click here to read more on how to get a good night’s rest.
*Genetics may affect your risk for Alzheimer’s disease but it doesn’t mean you will necessarily have the condition. Increasing evidence is showing that environmental and lifestyle factors (i.e. epigenetic changes) can affect whether that gene is turned “on” or “off”. You are in control of your own fate much more than you realize.
Bredesen, D. (2017) The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia. UK: Penguin Random House.