By Gary Small, M.D., Member, Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board
August 18, 2016
Along with other aging and wellbeing experts, I recently presented at the Robb Report Health and Wellness Summit in Deer Valley, Utah on how a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, physical activity and social support can be a foundation for overall wellbeing.
Populations with extreme longevity, where a large number of people live for 100 years or more, have a few traits in common:
- They are physically active
- They forge strong social networks
- They consume a diet of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, healthy grains and proteins
While only a small percentage of the population can expect to live more than 100 years, there may be some good habits that these centenarians model for us. To support overall wellbeing, you need to take care of the body and mind. Some ways we do this today include:
- Mental workouts
- Physical exercise
- Positive outlook
- Healthy environment
Multiple factors, like stress, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, can actually contribute to brain aging and inflammation. Normal inflammation protects the body from infection and injury, but brain inflammation associated with aging may lead to memory loss.
Once cognitive function is gone, it’s difficult or impossible to recover. That’s why a focus on early intervention and protecting a healthy brain, instead of attempting extensive repair, is so vital.
According to a Gallup Poll of 18,552 U.S. adults, 14% of younger adults, 22% of middle-aged adults, and 26% of older adults complained about memory problems. But the message that a healthy lifestyle can help protect your cognitive function, including memory, has yet to be widely accepted. In fact, older adults engaging in healthy behavior report fewer memory complaints.
The brain ages in a gradual manner and the extent of the aging is often measured by tracking decline in cognition, metabolism and other physical markers in the brain itself.
According to more and more research, genetics accounts for only part of what determines how long and how well we live. There are potentially modifiable non-genetic factors that can contribute to brain health including,:
- Mental stimulation/cognitive training
- Stress management
- Physical conditioning
- Social engagement
Mental Exercise Builds Brain Muscle
Like a muscle, the brain appears to perform better when it gets regular exercise. Mental stimulation has been shown to activate neural circuits and is associated with lower Alzheimer’s risk. Educational achievements, bilingualism, doing puzzles, and staying active, have all been shown to lower dementia risk. Memory training can also improve memory recall and help you maintain higher cognitive performance for five or more years.
Benefits of Physical Exercise
Studies have shown that people who get regular cardiovascular conditioning have larger parietal, temporal and frontal brain areas.,,,
Nutrition for Support
People can support brain health and cardiovascular health with proper weight management; consuming foods rich in omega-3 fats like fish and nuts; consuming more antioxidant-dense fruits and vegetables; and avoiding processed foods. Remember that these are tactics for maintaining a healthy body, as nutrition alone doesn’t prevent the onset of disease or reverse the effects of aging.,,,
Mind Your Medicine
It’s important to partner with your doctor to manage your wellness. Medicines for treating hypertension and high cholesterol are associated with better brain health and longer life expectancy.
Mastering the Environment
It’s also vital to create a healthy environment. Limit exposure to smoke, smog, mold, and other toxins. Avoid information overload, TV addiction and clutter.
Keeping a Positive Outlook
And it’s true what they say: Optimists live longer than pessimists. People can learn to be optimistic. Some find a positive outlook through spirituality, harmony with nature, or a belief in a higher power.
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