Many people realize that lifestyle factors can affect long-term health and risk of chronic disease. But, do people think staying fit means only from the neck down?
Diseases of the body can also affect the brain and its functions. One in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has loss of brain function that is not part of the normal aging process, like Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Loss of brain functions, such as memory, thinking, reasoning, judgment, mood, behaviour and ability to communicate can all be affected by lifestyle factors including diet, exercise and other environmental influences.
Maintaining good blood flow through arteries around the body and brain are important for health.
A fatty, processed food type diet over the long term can cause elevated cholesterol levels, contributing to arterial blockages, which may result in stroke and brain cell damage leading to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Physical fitness, such as brisk walking can help to maintain good blood flow to brain, as well as encourage new brain cells and ultimately decrease risk of dementia.
Other ways that exercise can preserve brain health is that it boosts the odds of having lower blood pressure, healthy arteries and less insulin resistance. Also, studies show that higher blood pressure, cholesterol and weight during middle age puts individuals at higher risk for dementia.
Eating a diet that is good for cardiovascular or heart health is also shown to help prevent brain deterioration and risk of dementia.
Including a rainbow of dark-coloured vegetables and fruits that are naturally rich in antioxidants and folate help prevent free radical cell damage throughout body including brain.
Fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, halibut, tuna and herring two to three times per week in the diet will offer a good level of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for health. Flax, walnuts and pumpkin seeds will also provide these essential fats in the diet.
These good fats are benficial, whereas too many trans and saturated fats can be detrimental over time.
Trans fats are found in bakery items, packaged food products and hydrogenated processed foods (as stated on the label).
Saturated fats are derived from animal products and can be limited by choosing lean cuts of meat, skinless poultry and low fat dairy for example.
Other important considerations for maintaining brain health include regularly engaging in mental puzzles and games, such as crosswords and sudoku, challenging self with new activities, writing letters or journals and keeping socially active. Quitting smoking is also a critical step to improving overall health.
In general, following a heart healthy lifestyle will also help to preserve long-term brain health and support the prevention of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in older adults.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is an Alberni Valley-based registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.