You can do one small thing today that will help keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life.
Now, there is a catch. You need to do it every day — or at least a few times a week — in order to reap the benefits of clear memory and sharp thinking. But as they say: “One day at a time.” So we’ll focus on what you can do for your brain…right now…today.
Earlier this month I told you about a breakthrough in brain research from New Mexico Highlands University. Using a sensitive ultrasound technique to track changes to arteries, researchers revealed that walking increases blood flow to the brain.
That study didn’t include memory or cognition tests to evaluate the effects of improving brain blood flow, but the researchers felt confident that further investigations would show that this effect probably does improve brain function.
Well, according to brand new evidence, their hunch was spot on.
In a recent study from UCLA, researchers recruited 26 people over the age of 60 who had reported memory problems, but no dementia. Each volunteer was given an MRI brain scan, while mental health tests assessed memory, learning skills, information processing, and other cognitive measures.
Activity of each volunteer was tracked for one week with an accelerometer (a more advanced version of a pedometer — it measures speed, distance, and gauges the intensity of each footstep). Researchers then divided the participants into two groups: more active (those whose activity equaled 4,000 steps or more each day) and less active (fewer than 4,000 daily steps).
MRI results showed that the more active group had greater brain volume in the area of the hippocampus — the part of the brain that processes memory and critical thinking.
As one researcher put it, thickness in this area of the brain is seen as “an early and sensitive marker of brain health.” And the mental health testing proved that to be the case, with the more active group scoring higher in memory and general cognitive function.
These results closely parallel new recommendations from a panel of neurological and aging experts, convened by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) to update earlier guidelines.
After reviewing years of recent literature on the prognosis and treatment of mild cognitive impairment (MCI, a precursor of dementia), one key recommendation stood out: Doctors should adamantly prescribe regular exercise to help strengthen memory in patients with MCI.
The lead author of the guidelines — Dr. Ronald Peterson of the Mayo Clinic — said, “It’s exciting that exercise may help improve memory at this stage, as it’s something most people can do, and of course it has overall health benefits.”
The AAN panel offered two more important guidelines:
- Clinical evidence does not support the use of cholinesterase inhibitors (a class of Alzheimer’s drugs) in people with MCI
- Medications known to impair cognition should be discontinued whenever possible
Boiled down to a simple takeaway, the panel’s recommendations combined with the UCLA study results make it clear: Increased exercise gives your memory powerful support as you age.
A Daily Walk: Smart Move for Seniors’ Brain Health
December 27, 2017
Exercise and Cognitive Training May Be Most Effective in Reducing MCI, an Alzheimer’s Disease Pre-Cursor
University of Alabama at Birmingham press release
December 27, 2017