Eight Ways to Protect An Aging Brain

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Findings from the SPRINT-MIND (Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial of Memory and Cognition in Decreased Hypertension) study suggest that aggressively lowering elevated blood pressure significantly reduces the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)-and perhaps Alzheimer’s disease. The findings appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year. If they are confirmed, there will be one more reason to lower elevated blood pressure to as close to normal as possible.

In the meantime, here are some factors besides blood pressure control that may help protect the aging brain:

1. Exercise. Research has consistently found that staying physically active is a key to preserving brain function. Aerobic exercise seems especially beneficial, and some studies suggest that strength training can also help.

2. Mental activity and lifelong learning. Staying mentally active can enrich your life, reduce boredom, and confer a sense of purpose and accomplishment-all good for cognitive health.

3. Staying socially active. Social activity, and the complex interpersonal exchanges it entails, can help counter depression and help people maintain cognitive abilities.

4. Preventing or controlling diabetes. Type 2 diabetes (and possibly even prediabetes) increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, probably because it damages blood vessels, including those in the brain.

5. Weight control. Obesity, especially in the abdomen, has been linked to increased dementia risk. Since obesity often goes along with other dementia risk factors-such as diabetes, hypertension, and physical inactivity-it is hard to know which is the main culprit.

6. Healthy diet. Observational studies, plus some clinical trials, have linked heart healthy diets based on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (such as the Mediterranean diet) to a reduced risk of cognitive decline.

7. Treating depression. Not only does depression impair mental vitality, it can actually cause severe memory problems.

8. Maintaining good hearing and vision, and correcting or treating losses when possible. Poor hearing or vision reduces older adults’ ability to participate in stimulating activities and can lead to social isolation.