Our brains age daily, incrementally, of course. However, inevitable brain aging can be addressed with simple lifestyle changes. Keeping your brain healthy longer is key to an enjoyable retirement.
https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-aging-brain-affects-thinking. What are some common symptoms of an aging brain? It takes a second or two (maybe more) to find the right words to respond to a question. Recalling names is also a common sign. Multitasking becomes more difficult. And paying attention is no longer a strong trait.
The brain shrinks as it ages. Nerve communications slow down because blood flow is less, and oxygen levels are lower with reduced blood flowing in the brain. The body’s ability (immune system) does not fight off inflammatory agents as well in our older years, which also affects brain function.
Blood Pressure & Brain Aging
https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/high-blood-pressure-linked-cognitive-decline High blood pressure (hypertension) is a recognized risk factor to cognitive decline in older adults. Memory and processing speed are two factors that show cognitive decline. Control blood pressure in your middle years (the 40s and 50s), and your later years are at lower risk.
How many people have the equipment to measure their blood pressure? How many people measure it daily? When your blood pressure is in and out of the normal range, do you know what causes it to spike? A blood pressure medicine may work effectively for a while. However, some people require a change in blood pressure medications every several years.
High blood pressure has many causes. Blood pressure medicine addresses one or several potential causes. Aging introduces new factors that can influence blood pressure. Most clinical studies on blood pressure do not account for dementia in later life.
Cholesterol & Brain Aging
https://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/features/can-low-cholesterol-keep-your-brain-healthy and https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/abnormal-cholesterol-metabolism-linked-dementia-risk. People with high levels of cholesterol tend to have high levels of beta-amyloid proteins. We typically think of cholesterol as a heart health issue. Yet, cholesterol levels have been linked to brain health also.
High levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol appear to promote high levels of beta-amyloid. However, the high levels are not an absolute risk but can become a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease when beta-amyloid plaques build up in the brain.
Blood Sugar & Brain Health
https://hms.harvard.edu/news-events/publications-archive/brain/sugar-brain The brain uses sugar (glucose) as the primary energy source, as does every cell in your body. The demand for sugar in the brain is enormous – about half the sugar energy needed for your entire body.
Thinking, memory, learning, and more are dependent on glucose levels. Too little or too much sugar can cause brain health issues. Not enough sugar and the neurotransmitters begin to break down. This is seen with complications of diabetes with low blood glucose levels.
Persistent high levels of blood glucose affect the brain’s functional connectivity to all areas of the brain. Therefore, long-term exposure to consistently elevated levels of blood glucose can restrict blood flow causing cognitive issues and could develop into vascular dementia.
https://www.healthline.com/health/type-3-diabetes. The term, type 3 diabetes, is being used often to describe Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise & Brain Health
https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/features/physical-activity-brain-health/index.html. Exercise increases blood flow which provides more oxygen to the brain. Regular physical exercise reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091743520303030?via%3Dihub. People who exercise have half the risk factor for dementia compared to those who are less active. Most researchers suggest 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495. Many studies support exercise to reduce depression and anxiety.
Diet & Brain Health
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626. Good nutrition leads to good health. Nutrient deficiency leads to many health issues. I have been an advocate for nutritional balance since I read about its dramatic effect on Dr. Terry Wahls. I bought her book, The Wahls Protocol, and started my wife on the diet protocol of her book.
My wife had breast cancer and her oncologist highly recommended chemo and radiation therapy. She had just finished six months of chemotherapy, with fatigue being the biggest problem. It was relentless, unwavering, and unassailable. No matter what was done, her unyielding fatigue continued.
Her radiologist told us it would probably worsen during radiation therapy. So on Day 1 of radiation therapy, my wife started the Wahl’s Protocol diet option. It involved eating over 30 nutrients the body needed daily. Why did I suggest to my wife this might help? Because when Dr. Terry Wahls put herself on her own protocol (four pillars – toxin removal, diet, stress management, and exercise), she could get out of her wheelchair and walk using a walker in three months.
Dr. Wahls had come down with multiple sclerosis late in life. No matter what the doctors recommended for her, the disease got worse. She ended up in a wheelchair for four years. Then, adhering to her own advice, she managed to leave the wheelchair behind and started walking using a cane a month after she mastered the walker. Within a year, she was bicycling 18 miles. I felt her spectacular recovery might help my wife.
My wife stopped taking naps forty-eight hours after starting radiation therapy as her fatigue disappeared. A week later, she was volunteering again at our church. On the last day of radiation, we left Houston and drove to Jacksonville, FL (one thousand miles). I rented a U-Haul to bring back my parents’ estate items that we wanted. I drove the U-Haul, and she followed me by herself and drove 500 miles each day – 72 hours after her last radiation treatment. Diet matters a lot!
Body Weight & Brain Health
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200805110127.htm#:~:text=As%20a%20person’s%20weight%20goes,a%20new%20brain%20imaging%20study.&text=FULL%20STORY-,As%20a%20person’s%20weight%20goes%20up%2C%20all%20regions%20of%20the,the%20Journal%20of%20Alzheimer’s%20Disease. I believe we all intuitively know that too much weight is unhealthy. A recent brain imaging study (https://www.j-alz.com/) confirmed that increased weight causes brain blood flow to decrease. I spent a long time reviewing the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease to find the specific study and was unsuccessful.
Analysis of over 35,000 functional neuroimaging scans revealed that low cerebral blood flow predicts Alzheimer’s disease. Reduced blood flow was found in those morbidly obese, obese, overweight, and underweight. Average body weight provides the best level of blood flow for a fully functional brain.
Smoking & Brain Health
https://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/smoking-effects-on-brain. Most people believe smoking is hazardous to your health. Even second-hand smoke creates a risk for those around you. Many studies support an increased risk of stroke, cancer, lung disease, and other health disorders directly to smoking.
Nicotine mimics several neurotransmitters (signaling systems in the brain). It also activates dopamine signals (the pleasure people have from smoking). Over time, nicotine tolerance builds up, and more nicotine is needed to satisfy the need.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3675806/. Cognitive decline begins earlier in people who smoke, and the risk of dementia increases. In addition, age-related brain volume loss (shrinkage) increases with more tobacco usage.
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-are-the-13-factors-that-shape-brain-health. Depression, social isolation, alcohol use, and sleep affect brain health.
Most of the risks associated with cognitive decline are controllable. Brain health improves as well as cardiovascular health – two components of excellent health in retirement. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STR.0000000000000367
People make changes for several reasons – pain and pleasure are two primary ones. In addition, emotional events can trigger changes – sometimes instantly. It is easier to have a habit of good health than to make changes when you pass your 70th birthday.
A stroke can leave you dependent on others for daily care. Alzheimer’s disease is another condition that takes control of your life away from you. I listed seven factors to improve brain health in this article. Assess yourself and talk to your physician about making changes in your life, especially if you have a health issue and are on prescription medications.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – RedOLaughlin.com