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Exercising the Brain Slows Deterioration

That's the growing conclusion of research that show poor memory and slowed thinking are not inevitable consequences of getting old. Here are some steps you can take to protect your brain. 
 The brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it.
That’s the growing conclusion of research.

     Mental exercise seems crucial. Benefits start when parents read to tots and depend heavily on education, but scientists say it’s never too late to start exercising the gray matter.

     Diet and exercise are also crucial to saving your brain. Bad memory is linked to physical inactivity, heart disease, diabetes and a high-carbohydrate diet. 

Increasing Protective Factors

    New research suggests there are brain-protective steps, mental and physical, that may be strong enough to help influence who gets Alzheimer’s disease.

    Here are some of the suggestions I give to my clients:

  1. Read.  Read everything you can, whenever you can, wherever you are. Read labels on food. Get a subscription to Readers Digest. It is designed so that you can read an article a day for a month.  There are word games that will help you exercise your brain. there are sections devoted to humor.
  2. Do crossword puzzles, play checkers or chess or Scrabble.
  3. Take classes at your community college, corporate university, church/temple, or library. 
  4. Learn  a new hobby. 
  5. Do anything that stimulates your brain to think.
  6. Cut back on non-educational TV. When you watch TV, your brain goes into neutral.

Brain Rewiring

    Good News:  We now know the brain continually rewires and adapts itself, even in old age.  Major portions of the brain and thinking ability continue to develop well into the teen years. Even the elderly can grow at least some new neurons and grow new connections.
     So cognitive decline doesn’t have to be inevitable. The trick is to increase brain capacity by exercising your thinking capacity, just as exercising the body will increase heart and lung capacity.

Increased Intellectual Activity

    Researchers find that those who are less mentally and physically active in middle age were three times more likely to get Alzheimer’s as they aged. In contrast, those who increased their intellectual activity during adulthood seem less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. 
     Numerous studies show people with less education have higher risks of Alzheimer’s than the better-educated.  Studies even suggest a difference  between holders of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
     It’s not just formal education. Reading habits between ages 6 and 18 appear crucial predictors of cognitive function decades later. 

   My recommendation: Exercise and challenge the brain early on, and continually throughout life, to build up more “cognitive reserve” to counter brain-damaging disease later. 
     Brain scans show that those who mentally exercise their brains for example, cab drivers, musicians, and those who learn new skills, increase the size of their brains in the associated areas.  Less-used areas shrink.
     A healthy brain needs lots of oxygen pumped through healthy arteries.  That means exercising and eating right — the very things that prevent heart disease and diabetes — helps the brain, too.



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