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How to Slow Down Aging and Boost Brain Health

February 27, 2024

Our minds and bodies inevitably change with age. Though reversing the aging process is currently impossible, taking care of your physical health can help slow the process. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and low in red meat and sugar can nourish your brain and enhance your prospects for a healthier life. A balanced diet and regular exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight and control your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. 

If you don’t know where to begin, start small and slow. Small lifestyle changes can go a long way in managing age-related physical and mental changes. Here, we explore four surprising facts to help you embrace healthier habits as you age: 

 

1. The vitality of protein.

Protein is an essential nutrient for older adults. It helps strengthen our immune system and preserve muscle and physical function. Too little protein can cause malnutrition or muscle loss, which can lead to mobility problems and increased fall risk. Seafood and lean meats are essential to a nutrient-rich diet and can be paired with other nutritious, low-calorie foods. Those include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins like nuts and seeds. The recommended daily protein intake varies per person, but in general, older adults should try 50-70 grams of protein a day, complemented by servings of fruits and vegetables.

 

2. The plant-based path to brain health.

Scientists and wellness experts have been raving about the benefits of plant-based diets. But what exactly are they, and which one is best to follow? Plant-based diets focus on fruits, vegetables, and fish. They aren't your typical food trend or fad diet. They’re scientifically recognized for their health benefits, which include reducing dementia risk. In fact, there’s evidence suggesting that the high antioxidant content found in fruits and vegetables may help to protect against damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer's disease. What's more, these diets significantly benefit other aspects of your health more than those focused on animal foods.

The Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets are the most studied and promising plant-based diets. Research shows that they can reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure -- a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet–short for Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, a fusion of both, discourages unhealthy options and promotes healthier ones, including the following healthy food groups:

  • Leafy green vegetables (6+ servings/week)

  • Other vegetables (1+ serving/day)

  • Berries (2+ servings/week)

  • Whole grains (3+ servings/day)

  • Fish (1 serving/week)

  • Poultry (2 servings/week)

  • Beans (3 servings/week)

  • Nuts (5 servings/week)

  • Olive oil

  • Wine (1 glass/day, as the body's tolerance to alcohol may diminish with age)

 

3. Understanding weight and health.

Being overweight, obese, or too thin can be problematic as you age. Obese adults are more likely to become disabled and develop type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. In contrast, being underweight can lead to bone fractures and weaken your immune system. Both conditions can lead to muscle mass loss, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks. 

 

4. Muscle mass – use it or lose it.

While age-related muscle loss is a reality, a protein-rich diet and resistance training can help combat it. Researchers have found that walking and resistance training are the best combo for improving physical function. Also called strength training, resistance training is any exercise that uses weights. They can be actual weights, like free weights and machines, or exercises using your own body weight. If you’re new to resistance training, start with simple exercises like circles, squats, yoga, and reverse lunges. You can try these activities two days a week combined with walking, swimming, or dancing. As always, remember to ask your doctor for guidance before starting a new workout regimen.

 

The takeaway

While there’s no way to “stop the clock,” you can slow age-related changes and help prevent health problems. Nutrition and exercise are crucial for better brain and physical health. Avoid foods high in empty calories with no nutritional value. Limit red and processed foods, and incorporate antioxidant-rich vegetables and berries into your diet. Live a smoke-free lifestyle, limit alcohol intake, make exercise part of your daily routine, and talk to your doctor about nutrition and exercise recommendations. Call St. Joseph Health to make an appointment with your primary care provider.

 

Sources:

What Do We Know About Healthy Aging? | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)

MIND Diet | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

MIND_Diet_Flyer_1-22.pdf (barrowneuro.org)

MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults - PubMed (nih.gov)

Healthy Aging: MedlinePlus

Nutrition Needs for Older Adults: Protein (acl.gov)

What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease? | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)

Mediterranean diet and dementia | Alzheimer's Society (alzheimers.org.uk)

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