Aerobics, Diet to
Stave Off 'Senior Moments'
LONDON (Reuters) - If those 'senior moments' -- when you can't
remember why you opened the refrigerator door or where you left
your keys -- are becoming more frequent, mental aerobics and a
healthy brain diet may help.
Just as bodies require more maintenance with the passing years,
so do brains, which scientists now know show signs of aging as
early as the 20s and 30s.
"Brain aging starts at a very young age, younger than any of
us had imagined and these processes continue gradually over the
years," said Dr. Gary Small, the director of the Center on Aging
at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The process may be speeded up a bit by a genetic risk and pushed
even faster by unhealthy lifestyle choices.
"Genetics is only about a third of what predicts brain aging.
The other two thirds has to do with our environment and lifestyle
choices that we make," said Small.
"Alzheimer's disease, or vascular dementia, are the end result
of this process of brain aging."
An estimated 12 million people around the globe suffer from
Alzheimer's. The incurable, progressive disease that clogs up
brains and robs people of memory and mental ability is set to
explode as more baby boomers reach 65 years and older.
By 2050 the number of sufferers could hit 45 million.
Scientists can now spot early signs of the illness in the brains
of people long before symptoms develop and drug companies are
plowing millions into the search for a cure.
But Small believes, that just like heart disease and cancer,
people can take preventive measures to keep their brains healthy
and alert to stave off the ravages of the disease.
"I'm convinced that it is never too early to get started on
a mental or brain-fitness program," he said.
GAME PLAN TO KEEP BRAIN CELLS FIRING
In his book, "The Memory Bible," the 51-year-old neuroscientist
lists what he refers to as the 10 commandments for keeping the
brain young. They include training memory, building skills, minimizing
stress, mental aerobics, brain food and a healthy lifestyle.
Commandment number 10 sums it all up -- don't forget the first
It's a game plan for keeping brain cells sparking and neural
networks in tip-top shape.
"Misplacing your keys a couple of times doesn't mean you should
start labelling your cabinets. Memory loss is not an inevitable
consequence of aging. Our brains can fight back," he said.
Small provides the weapons for a full-scale attack.
Simple memory tests give an indication of what you are up against
and tools such as look, snap and connect are designed to make
sure that important names and dates are never forgotten.
"So if you wanted to learn names and faces, for example, you
meet Mrs. Beatty and you notice (look) a distinguishing facial
feature, maybe a prominent eyebrow," said Small.
"You associate the first thing that comes to mind (snap). I
think of the actor Warren Beatty so I create a mental snapshot
of Warren Beatty kissing her brow (connect)."
Small admits it may sound a bit strange but he says it works.
SIT-UPS AND CROSS TRAINING FOR THE BRAIN
Research has shown the people who are mentally active during
their 40s and 50s are less likely to develop memory problems which
support the "use it or lose it" theory.
"We have evidence from our PET (positron emission tomography)
scan studies. In people in their 20s and 30s we can begin to see
a difference in the function in the memory centers in the brain.
We found that people who have a college education have better
brain activity at that age than people who do not have a college
education," said Small.
To get the brain working better he advises people to begin with
simple warm-up exercises and workouts for both the left and right
side of the brain.
The exercises become increasingly difficult and can be expanded
with brain teasers, puzzles, learning a foreign language or taking
up a musical instrument.
"Mental aerobics could be anything from doing crossword puzzles
and writing with your left hand if you are right handed or learning
a language. It could be anything that is fun that people enjoy
doing," said Small.
He also recommends physical exercise, a low-fat diet and eating
foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, avocados, walnuts
and brazil nuts, and fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants
including prunes, raisins, blueberries, broccoli, beets and onions
in addition to reducing stress.
"Your body pumps out stress hormones like cortisone that have
a negative impact on the brain memory centers," he explained.
It is no coincidence that the food and exercise advice is similar
to recommendations for reducing the risk of heart disease and
cancer because what is good for the body is also good for the
Small is confident that in the next five to 10 years there will
be major breakthroughs in research into Alzheimer's disease and
refinements in brain imaging techniques will improve the diagnosis
of the illness.
"The drug discovery is going to be speeded up because of new
findings, particularly in imaging, and I think we will have new
drugs. It may not be a vaccine," he said.
"We will be able to use those drugs on people who don't have
Alzheimer's yet but who have the signal in their brain. We will
be able to track whether it is clearing out that signal."
But repairing damaged brain cells is still a long way off. Scientists
think it will be easier to protect the brain, than to repair it.
He envisions a future when a blood test or hair sample will
provide a biological brain image profile and a computer will print
out a healthy brain diet and what medicines are needed so doctors
can tailor prevention to the individual.
"The Memory Bible emphasizes that there are things we can do
now to improve our memory and maximise brain health and stave
off Alzheimer's disease," Small added.
Reference Source 104