The 3 most important factors in keeping the brain healthy as we age

Brain Healthy

All of us humans will eventually get old – this is an irrevocable fact of nature. We will inevitably grow old, and as we age, the human body experiences some major changes; physically, systemically, and even mentally. Some of these changes are great, but some, not so pleasant. Experiencing these changes, especially the not-so-pleasant ones that signal some kind of decline in functionality, can be overwhelming. One of such instances of decline occurs in brain function.

What happens to the brain as we get older?

Research suggests that some of our thinking abilities begin to peak at age 30 and then continue to decline with age.

A client may come to you with the following questions:

“Sometimes, I find myself struggling to recall a thought or trying to remember why I made a trip to say the kitchen or another room in the house”

“Should I be concerned?”

A younger adult may shrug off such concerns, but an older adult may feel more anxious, because age is one of the main risk factors for memory issues and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

What should we know about the brain and Alzheimer’s?

Normal healthy ageing includes some degree of shrinking of the brain, but it does not lose neurons in large numbers. However, with Alzheimer’s disease, many neurons die as they stop functioning and lose connection with other neurons.

Here is what to know about Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, with about 10% of individuals over 65 being affected.
  • In most cases, symptoms usually appear in the mid-60s (late-onset).
  • Age and genetics are the main risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease (modifiable risk factors related to our lifestyle also exist)
  • Women are more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than men

Note that dementia is not a disease itself: it is a syndrome where there is deterioration in memory, thinking, and behaviour that interferes with everyday tasks.

Are there steps that we can take to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, or do we just accept our fate and give in to the decline?

We may not be able to control the genes we are born with or the fact that ageing is inevitable, but there are certain modifiable risk factors that we can manage and that can also help us mitigate our risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Which modifiable lifestyle factors increase our risk of cognitive decline?

Lifestyle factors such as the following play a significant role:

  • poor diet,
  • psychological stress,
  • sleep loss,
  • obesity,
  • sedentarism,
  • toxicants load, among many others.

The good news here is the word “modifiable” because they can be changed. We can make some changes in our day-to-day living to help reduce our risk of cognitive decline, and even Alzheimer’s disease, while keeping the brain healthy.

While a myriad of factors play a role in brain health, there are 3 key lifestyle modifications that usually have the biggest impact when wanting to keep the brain healthy and reducing the risk of cognitive decline.

So what are these?

Let’s go over them, including some of the most impactful lifestyle modifications to keep the brain healthy and help mitigate a decline in cognitive function.

1. The brain on exercise

Physical activity has been shown to promote the creation of new neurons and help to keep us mentally sharp. Exercise can affect the brain’s cognition, function, and structure.

So, how much exercise?

It is recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise every week, plus strength activities involving all major muscle groups at least twice weekly.

What are other effects of exercise on the brain?

  • Many studies have shown that physical activity which includes not just exercise alone but also sports can contribute to delaying brain ageing and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
  • The body pushes more oxygen and blood to the brain during exercise, and this leads to improved blood flow in brain issue, elevated brain oxygenation, and brain angiogenesis (growth of blood vessels in the brain).
  • Exercise can also improve mental health. As the body exerts itself, endorphins are released which helps to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body. Once stress levels are reduced, this in turn leads to improved mood, improved sleep, and increased energy.

Which types of exercise affect the brain?

High Intensity Interval training (HIIT), steady state and recovery: This sequence involves short bursts of intense exercise and low short periods of recovery. Push-ups, jumping jacks, high knees, sprints, high jumps, and jumping rope all fall into this category.

Resistance training: This type of exercise incorporates the use of weights or our own body weight to create force. This is typically any exercise that contracts against an external resistance (weight and gravity) with the aim of increasing strength, body mass, and tone.

Low-intensity mind-body exercises: These include activities like yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and anything that creates focus on one’s breathing and awareness of physical sensations as we move different body parts.

But is body movement on its own enough to keep the brain young?

Combining body movement with cognitive tasks have a stronger effect on helping delay brain ageing. These cognitive tasks can include playing sports that require hand-eye coordination (like baseball, table tennis, tennis, racquetball), dual tasking, exergaming (tech-driven physical activity), and cognitive motor training.

Besides physical activity, what else might help reduce our chances of earlier cognitive decline?

2. Getting Quality Sleep

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night and with age, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter. Without good, quality sleep, the brain would be unable to stay alert and maintain the pathways that lets us learn and create new memories

Also, research suggests that sleep helps remove unwanted metabolic waste products and toxins in the brain that have built up when we are awake.

However, about a third of us aren’t getting the recommended hours of sleep to function at our best.

So, how exactly might you help your clients get the quality sleep they need for brain function? We would start by understanding:

  • the science behind why we sleep,
  • what regulates our sleep hormones and circadian rhythms,
  • the importance of both sleep quantity and quality,
  • the factors that influence if we wake up feeling tired,
  • how to evaluate levels of daytime sleepiness and assess the amount of sleep a client needs,
  • how to build a personalised sleep program for a client to help them wake well-rested and ready for the day, and
  • when to refer for sleep disorders like insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnoea, or parasomnias

And if you want to discover how to best support clients who want to fall asleep faster, sleep more deeply, and sleep longer – including which nutrients may help to have a good night’s rest – then our Advanced Sleep Management Advisor™ Certification is for you.

You can learn more about the certification and get the full curriculum download here.

3. Eating for Brain Power

We often hear the term “brain foods”, but can our diet really make us smarter?

Nutrition plays a role in protecting brain structures, in memory, and performing cognitive tasks. This means our diet can also influence the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Poor eating practices can have an adverse effect on brain health. There are also many scenarios where food plays an important role in mitigating disease risk. But how does this happen?

We cover this fascinating science and more in our CPD-accredited continuing education training: Brain Nutrition.

Here is your chance to discover how the foods we eat affect our brain health and also learn whether what we eat can really affect your intelligence. This way, you can help your clients make smart, healthy food decisions.

This CPD training will also help answer numerous questions:

  • Can food make you smarter?
  • How does your brain make food decisions?
  • Can your brain perform without carbs?
  • How are your brain and gut connected?
  • Why is sugar so hard to resist?

In the Brain Nutrition training, we dive into the scientific research behind the nutrients that are said to make us more intelligent, and see if there’s any truth to these claims. Not only do you gain all this profound evidence-based knowledge, but you also earn 10 hours of CPD after completing this accredited training.

You can take the training here.

Do you want to begin a career in nutrition or expand your professional opportunities?

You can do this with our Nutrition Accelerator Scholarship!  

Enjoy access to 1 of 14 certifications (including the Advanced Sleep Management Advisor™ Certification mentioned above).  

After completing the certification of your choice, you become specialised and can immediately begin to make an impact.  

Hurry over to our scholarship page to check your eligibility and learn more. 

See Also

Continuing Education Bundle

Upcoming Webinar

[PDF] Should We Fear GMOs?

2024 Science Report

Free Contrast Method

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© Copyright The Health Sciences Academy. The content, graphs and charts on this page have been exclusively prepared for The Health Sciences Academy and its prospect students, existing students and graduates. None of the content on this page and website may be reproduced, copied or altered without our explicit permission. Criminal and legal penalties for copyright and other infringement apply. All Terms and Conditions apply.





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