Turns out that keeping our brains working hard throughout our later years can be governed by how we treat our bodies throughout our lives. We got advice about what you can do to keep your brain working smarter, longer from Dr. Bruce Price, MD, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and Associate in Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Price also served as a member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board.
Dr. Price has four major areas he encourages people to focus their energy on to ensure good brain health throughout their life: exercise, followed by good nutrition, sleep and happiness.
1. Exercise. In addition to helping everything from mood to blood pressure, exercise increases blood circulation in the brain, decreases inflammation and can lower the risk for dementia. Dr. Price recommends at least 45 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week, in addition to 2-3 strength-training sessions per week. He adds that a healthy exercise routine can help you maintain independence and mobility much longer, adding to your quality of life.
2. Good nutrition. Dr. Price recommends getting the majority of your necessary vitamins and nutrients from food sources. The best plan? Mimic the Mediterranean diet:lots of fruits, veggies and good fats (like olive oil and fish), and low in dairy, meat and poultry. Add on nuts filled with good fats (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds); antioxidant-rich foods (berries and greens); and an essential fatty acid supplement that contains at least 1200 mg of combined EPA and DHA.
3. Sleep. Without a full night’s sleep, mood, memory, attention, reaction time and learning suffer, says Dr. Price. For most people, 7-8 hours of sleep is optimal, but the quality of sleep is more important than the quantity. As we age, the required sleep time decreases, but it conversely increases the need for those mid-afternoon naps to keep the brain focused.
To optimize your quality of sleep, Dr. Price suggests maintaining consistent schedules (especially getting up at the same time everyday), eliminating any bad habits that you might do in bed-watching TV, paying bills or worrying-and spending time outdoors during the day to help reinforce the body’s natural circadian rhythms. And don’t necessarily rely on prescription or over-the-counter sleep remedies; for many people they can hinder quality sleep more than they can help it.
4. Happiness. Strong social ties may help promote brain health, especially as we age, Dr. Price says. Studies have shown that friendships can be just as important to our well being as our family relationships. So use those social ties to continue to engage the brain, through book groups or volunteer work, Dr. Price says. He also recommends spiritual and meditative practices like yoga or tai chi to keep the mind and body working well.
To learn more about what to do now to ensure good brain health later, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner.