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Brain Health: What Helps, What Hurts


Jun. 1, 2015 AARP

WHAT HELPS

Exercise
Aerobic exercise is especially beneficial for brain health, and even better when combined with strength training. Exercising for longer periods — at least 30 minutes or more at a time — appears to be better for brain health than shorter sessions. And it’s never too late to start. People older than 65 showed more benefits than those 55 to 65.

Staying socially and intellectually active
Activities that challenge your brain — including reading books, writing letters and learning a new language — all help preserve brain function, as do social activities such as volunteering, playing cards, attending worship services and talking with friends.

Eating a healthy diet
Although no specific diet has been proved to maintain or improve brain health, studies of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets justify eating less meat and consuming more nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables and olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, have been shown to help cognition in some studies, though not in others.

Getting good sleep
Poor sleep quality is linked to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.Breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, also put older people at higher risk for memory problems and dementia. Several studies have found treating sleep apnea helps delay memory problems.

Keeping your heart healthy
What’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes— especially in midlife — are linked to poor brain health later in life. Lowering blood pressure with medication seems to help prevent brain problems, but it’s unclear whether lowering cholesterol with drugs helps.

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