Health Care

Maintaining brain health requires some work

September 27, 2013
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The phrase “use it or lose it” doesn’t refer only to the body.

According to The National Institutes of Health, the brain requires one hour per day of mental exercise to stay active and sharp. The brain ages in the same way the body does — it atrophies, neurons die and the speed of processing slows down.

What this means is that senior citizens don’t:

  • Learn as quickly.
  • Respond to novel situations as quickly.
  • Focus as well.
  • Deal with change as rapidly.

But there are positives to getting older, too. A person has more experience to draw on and is able to arrive at difficult decisions more rapidly; in other words, what was lost in speed is gained in wisdom.

“At Holland Home, we offer Masterpiece Living, which is based on years of research and was created by experts on aging,” said Amanda Baushke, director of Masterpiece Living. “One of the key components of successful aging is keeping the brain healthy and stimulated.”

Caring for the body will also benefit the brain, Baushke said. Balanced nutrition, stress management and physical exercise all contribute to brain health.

She said the quality of what a person eats, not the quantity, is more important later in life in terms of brain health. Baushke suggested avoiding processed food and sticking with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.

Exercise is another key component to staying mentally sharp. Baushke said a study by the University of Edinburgh showed people who engaged in the most physical activity showed the least amount of brain shrinkage.

According to studies, exercise can increase brain density in early Alzheimer’s. It helps to improve memory, reduces falls and increases oxygen intake by 25 percent. Exercise also improves mood and helps neutralize some of the negative effects of stress. A 30-minute walk five times a week will go a long way toward improving brain health, she said.

Chronic stress kills brain neurons, and their loss results in brain atrophy. Baushke suggested an effective stress management program that includes exercise, meditation or prayer and/or the use of biofeedback as an essential element to improving brain function in senior citizens.

She also said lifelong learning is critical, especially activities that challenge a person.

“Always doing the same thing, like puzzles, does not grow new brain cells,” said Baushke. “Instead, consider pursuing a new skill or taking up a hobby.”

She said some studies have shown a 38 percent reduction in the risk of dementia through pursing new hobbies.

Positive social relations improve brain health, as well.

“Meeting new people is another way you can keep your brain sharp,” said Baushke. “The studies that led to the creation of Masterpiece Living showed that having an active social life can help you live better longer.”

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