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Sharp Health News

Boost your brain health

June 18, 2020

salmon, avocado, nuts, olive oil, mediterranean diet
During the stay-at-home orders issued as COVID-19 spread across the globe, many people found themselves trying to manage a perfect storm of stress, isolation, changes to the way they live and work, and other extreme challenges. All of these things can affect memory and cognition, especially in older adults. However, a focus on the importance of brain health is not specific to those over 60 or at difficult times like these. It should be a focus for everyone, each and every day.

“Taking measures to improve brain health can be beneficial at any time and at any age,” says Dr. Michael Plopper, medical director of clinical trials at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “It’s never too late to have an impact on our cognitive capabilities.”

According to Dr. Plopper, the most meaningful ways to slow cognitive decline involve three specific areas:
  • What we eat
  • How we engage in the world physically
  • How we engage with the world socially
What we eat
“The types of foods we eat have great bearing on brain, as well as cardiovascular, health,” he says. “The Mediterranean diet is the best studied and is validated as the most beneficial style of eating. So, the more fruits, vegetables and whole grains we eat, the better we do.”

  • Diets high in flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, lead to better brain health. Flavonoid-containing foods include citrus, berries and legumes.
  • Supplements or vitamins are generally of little value, unless a person has an actual deficiency of a particular vitamin. The most commonly encountered deficiencies include magnesium, iron, vitamin C and vitamin D.
How we engage in the world physically
“While it seems that increased exercise is a ‘no-brainer’ for improved health, research continues to prove its value in preventing cognitive decline and direct benefit for brain health,” Dr. Plopper says. “Exercise also produces lifelong benefits for the heart.”

  • A recent study demonstrated that for older people with memory disturbance, engaging in aerobic exercise for one year resulted in a 47% greater improvement in memory scores and brain blood flow than a control group who only engaged in stretching.
  • Research also shows that resistance training can lead to significant improvement in cognitive function and thicken the gray matter — build brain cells — in a part of the brain that is often affected in early Alzheimer's disease.
How we engage with the world socially
“While no specific social activity has been shown to prevent cognitive decline, it is well-established that by maintaining social connections, we decrease stress levels and increase our sense of purpose and meaning,” Dr. Plopper says. “Humans are, by nature, social creatures, and during this pandemic, it is especially important for people to remain connected.”

  • By creating opportunities for social engagement, we lessen depression and anxiety and improve mood, sleep, and overall mental and physical health.
  • There is evidence that increased socialization through friendship improves immune response, while isolation can lead to impaired executive functioning, decision-making, memory storage and recall.
“It is most important that you do what you enjoy and what will be repeated,” Dr. Plopper says. “Start early and learn to enjoy the steps you take to improve your diet, exercise routine and social connection. This will give you the best chance for success in reducing cognitive decline and fending off dementia.”

Learn more about the Sharp Mesa Vista Clinical Research Center. To schedule a free memory screening, call 858-836-8350.

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