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Posted on Dec 06, 2018, 5 p.m.

To paraphrase one of the most moving statements I have heard, this one is from Dr. Robert Klatz: The goal to anti-aging medicine isn’t simply to reach your 90s and beyond, rather to remain as healthy, independent, and mentally sharp as possible through the aging process, to have the time to enjoy spending it with family and friends doing things you like and want to do.

Keeping the brain healthy is a big part of being able to have a long healthspan, research is proving that there is a lot we can do to empower our brains to help keep them healthy and lessen the risk of brain disease to stay cognitively fit for a lifetime.

By integrating a few simple specific changes in diet, exercise, and lifestyle into daily routines it is possible to add years of mental stamina and vitality, which in turn serves the body well. By improving cognitive fitness you can strengthen your intellectual prowess, promote ability to recall, and protect brain based skill that are essential to a full, rewarding, independent lifespan.

There are six cornerstone factors to effective cognitive fitness that should be done together to reap the most benefits: Eating a plant based diet ( as much as possible); Maintaining a regular exercise program and physical activity; Getting enough sleep; Managing Stress; Nurturing social contacts (in real life vs online); and Continuing to challenge your brain.

There is no magic pill or superfood to prevent cognitive decline, but when combined these cornerstones of cognitive fitness can yield real results, and lead to changes in brain structure and function; these factors are equal parts to a cohesive plan and really won’t work in isolation. Just adding more fiber to the diet, or a walk to the daily routine will not be enough to halt mental decline, rather diet, sleep, exercise, social interaction, stress management, and mental stimulation will work in harmony to promote and yield positive results.

Nutrition is an important strategy, following a diet plan that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can go a long way. Try to get most protein from plant sources, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants are well known to support brain health, in an added benefit many of these foods also help to protect heart health.

Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, and collards are rich in vitamin K, beta carotene, lutein, and folate which have been shown to help slow cognitive decline.

Fatty fish such as salmon, cod, pollack, and tuna are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats that are linked to lower blood levels of dangerous beta amyloids. Be sure to choose varieties that are low in mercury at least twice a week. If you are not a fish fan talk to a medical professional about a supplement or chooses terrestrial omega-3 sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and avocados.

Flavonoids give berries their brilliant hues and have been shown to help improve memory, one Harvard study found women who consumed two or more servings per week of blueberries and strawberries delayed memory decline by up to 2.5 years.

Provided there is not an allergy, nuts are great sources of protein and healthy fats, walnuts in particular may also help to improve memory. A UCLA study linked higher walnut intake to improved cognitive test scores. Walnuts are also in high alpha linolenic acid which helps to lower blood pressure and protect the arteries.

Swimming may just be the perfect exercise, water takes strain off the joints to help them move more fluidly, it’s less weight bearing, and it has been shown to improve mental states and elevates stress while it helps to burn calories, tone up, and improves focus, and coordination.

Tai chi combines movement and relaxation that is good for both the body and mind. The series of graceful movements are a good option for any age and is very helpful to improving concentration and balance while boosting thinking skills. Yoga and meditation are also a great options which will also help with stress management.

Walking is one of the most simple and effective powerful exercises that can be done anywhere, at anytime, without equipment for free. Not only will it help you to stay fit, it strengthens bones, keeps blood pressure in check, combats stress, and lifts moods. Several studies have shown walking to help improve memory and resist age related memory loss.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, which can be done in a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Researchers from the University of British Columbia have found exercise to not only get the heart pumping and sweat glands going but also boost the size of the hippocampus which is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning; as well as leading to the release of cellular growth factors that are important to neurogenesis. Exercise even helps to improve sleep, moods, and reduce stress and anxiety which can contribute to cognitive impairment.

Insufficient sleep is bad for the body and mind, overtime continued sleep deprivation can give rise to a number of chronic health problems. Experts suggest that we should get at least 6-7 hours of sleep each night, less than 6 can have serious health ramifications.

Cognitive and social engagement have been shown to be protective against cognitive decline; neuronal plasticity appears to challenge the brain, for example learning a new skill leads to changes in the adult brain such as creating new connections between brain cells by changing the balance of available neurotransmitters and how connections are made. Challenging the brain and staying socially connected can help to protect the brain and keep it more resilient against changes that promote and cause dementia.

Think, read, paint/draw, learn something new, meet new people, listen to music, exercise, take up a new hobby or sport, ask questions and listen to stories in reply, or volunteer at a charity as these all require the brain to do some work, especially when encountering something it has not done before. The best activities are ones that you enjoy; just as it is important to stick to an exercise, diet, or meditation plan, it is also important to stick to a program of cognitive fitness to reap the benefits. Staying mentally sharp comes down to using your mind and body, no matter your age. Be well, and here’s to a long and happy healthspan.

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