A decade or two ago, memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were inevitable clouds threatening to darken the senior years for many. But recently, a number of studies have challenged the notion that mental deterioration is an inevitable part of aging.
Just as we learned that the physical deterioration we associated with aging is in large part a function of lifestyle, we’ve learned that the amount and kind of mental deterioration associated with aging is also related to lifestyle.
Memory loss is not inevitable, and the risk of Parkinson’s disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can be reduced through the daily choices we make, particularly with regard to exercise.
With increasing consistency, researchers assert that regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking at least three days a week for 45 minutes, improves the odds of maintaining memory and executive control functions, such as planning, scheduling and multitasking.
Researchers have also confirmed that learning new skills and playing games that require concentration, spatial learning, memory and processing speed also help maintain brain health.
And those of us who love coffee get an added boost. Researchers assert that caffeine improves mental processing and memory skills. Longterm coffee drinkers also have a lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Adding mental and physical exercise to one’s routine, along with drinking a few cups of coffee each day, are positive steps we can take. What do we need to avoid?
First, we need to avoid being overweight. Surplus weight can lead to diabetes, which affects memory and other mental functions.
Second, we need to keep our blood pressure in the normal range. Researchers can’t explain why hypertension results in memory loss or mental deterioration. But even if we don’t understand the mechanics, the conclusions remain clear. If necessary, we need to treat hypertension as part of a program to maintain brain health.
Here’s the bottom line if you want to preserve your memory, protect yourself from dementia or simply stay sharp:
Exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day
Maintain a normal weight
Keep your blood pressure under control
Enjoy coffee (if it doesn’t overstimulate you)
Challenge yourself through learning and staying engaged
The essence of who we are is dependent upon the functioning of our brain, and the implications of these research results are clear. Although we cannot keep the days from passing or change our genetic inheritance, we can adopt healthy habits today that will improve the odds of maintaining a healthy and normally functioning brain tomorrow.
"Age is an opportunity no less than youth itself." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow