Senior Health: Activity and Food for the Brain

dancingThere is no magic pill, potion, or isolated gene that holds the answer to better brain health. At least, not yet. Instead, we look for opportunities in our daily routines to help keep our minds active and our memories keen.

Identifying lifestyle choices to improve brain health is a priority at any age, but especially for older adults who may begin to experience changes in memory function as they age. At Covenant Retirement Communities (CRC), we invite experts in neuropsychology, nutrition, exercise, and memory care to educate our seniors about how to eat, think and move their way to better brain health. And we work with researchers, like those at the Rush Memory and Aging Project, to do our part to help prevent, treat and, hopefully, one day cure Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

The Power of Food

Lifelong eating habits follow us into our later years, so we can’t undo what’s been done. But it’s never too late to inject a dose of smart nutrition into our eating habits. Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, a leading geriatric neurologist and dementia specialist who co-wrote the cookbook The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook: 100 Recipes to Boost Brain Health suggests brain health can start in our own kitchen.

Different types of food affect how the brain functions, so follow a diet plan that boosts brain function. The Mediterranean diet plan, which emphasizes eating lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legume and olive oil is healthy not only for your brain, but for your heart, too.

The MIND diet, which combines the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet – created for those with hypertension – focuses on eating from 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, berries, beans, olive oil, and wine. The diet avoids foods from five unhealthy types of food: red meat, butter and stick margarine, pastries and sweets, cheeses, and fast or fried food.

The MIND diet rates number two in US News and World Report’s 2015 “Best Diets Overall.” And, in fact, our Chicagoland communities played a small, but important role in bringing this diet to the mainstream. The data collected by the Rush Memory and Aging Project from participating residents at The Holmstad, Windsor Park Manor, and Covenant Village of Northbrook was used by researchers in a smaller study that helped formulate the MIND diet.

The Power of Activity

In addition to feeding the brain the fuel it needs to function, Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a neuropsychologist and author of “Save Your Brain,” suggests daily physical and mental activity. He suggests you:

  • Exercise –You don’t need to run a marathon, unless you want to, but for at least 30 -minutes a day engage in a physical activity such as walking, dancing, gardening, knitting or swimming.
  • Socialize – Isolated brains are at an increased risk for developing dementia, so keep family and friends close! Join groups to meet new people. Eat meals with family and friends.
  • Learn something new – Like your muscles, your brain needs a daily workout to stay in tip-top shape. Participate in complex, mentally stimulating activities such as playing board games, playing a musical instrument or learning a new language or activity.
  • Pray – Reduce stress and enhance your immune system by engaging in a form of daily spiritual activity.

The key to better brain health is a combination of good choices. Feed your brain a healthy diet and give it a good work out. Embrace your family and friends. Pray often. And remember, sometimes it’s the smallest changes that yield the biggest results.

recipe photoBrain Boosting Recipe by Dr. Marwan Sabbagh and Chef Beau McMillan

Kale, Blueberry & Pomegranate Salad
3 bunches kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup vinaigrette or dressing of your choice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the kale, blueberries, carrots, pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds and mint in a medium bowl and toss well. Drizzle with dressing and toss again. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve right away.


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