Diet and exercise play a major role in brain health. To preserve optimal brain function well into your older years, good blood flow to the brain is essential.  Many of the foods that are good for heart health are good for brain health as well.  The proper food choices, exercise and supplements can give you the upper hand in optimal cognitive function. 

VITAMIN D
salmon
According to the Alzheimer’s Research Center (alzheimersinfo.org), vitamin D deficiency significantly increases the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  And it’s not surprising to find a “D” deficiency in older as well as younger adults. That’s because very few foods contain vitamin D. Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines are among the best sources, as is cod liver oil. Most of the U.S. milk supply and some brands of orange juice are fortified with Vitamin D.  But if someone is truly deficient, physicians usually recommend Vitamin D3 in a supplement form, with dosages ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 IU per day. Talk to your doctor about being tested for Vitamin D, and the dosage that may be right for you.

EXERCISE

Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve or maintain brain health. The brain receives energy and nutrients from the blood, so getting your heart rate up with exercise helps the brain get the fuel it needs – and it needs a lot of fuel. Although the brain makes up only 2% of total body weight, it consumes about 25% of the body’s nutrients and oxygen, more than any other organ.  A variety of studies now indicate that regular physical exercise and activity, including walking, swimming, and playing tennis, may reduce the risk of dementia by as much as 40%.

VITAMIN E 
Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center studied the lifestyle habits of 6,000 people and found that those who ate the most vitamin E-rich foods, such as walnuts, almonds and olive oil, had a reduced Alzheimer’s risk. Explains the Alzheimer’s Research Center: Vitamin E may trap free radicals that can damage brain cells.

CHOLINE
eggsYour brain uses choline – found in egg yolks, lentils, garbanzo beans, bok choy and broccoli –  to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that may help maintain memory and communication among brain cells. Boston University researchers tracked close to 1,400 healthy adults for a decade and found a positive correlation between choline intake and better performance on memory tests. So serve up the eggs, which are one of the richest sources of choline.

The MIND Diet

A recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that a new diet, smartly named the MIND DIET, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53%.  It’s a combination of diets, calling for lots of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (such as nuts and olive oil) and lean proteins (such as fish and chicken).  Even study participants who only “moderately” followed the diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s by 35%.

OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
Fish offers at least two nutrients that help keep your mind sharp: Omega-3 fats, found in oily fish, and vitamin D. Tufts University research found that people who ate fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut three times a week reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 40%.  Omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA and EPA, which are crucial for optimal brain function.

ANTHOCYANINS
blueberries
Recent research from Tufts University found that the antioxidant anthocyanin, found in blueberries, can protect brain cells and boost communication between brain neurons. A Harvard Nurses’ Health Study following 16,000 women observed that participants over the age of 70 who consumed two or more half-cup servings of blueberries or strawberries per week had a slower rate of memory decline than those who didn’t eat the berries.

COFFEE
Coffee (caffeine) may keep you on your game during the day, but did you know it may also protect your brain as you age?  Prospective studies indicate that coffee drinkers have up to a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Coffee may also lower the risk of Parkinson’s by as much as 60%.

mm
Elizabeth DeRobertis, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, CPT, is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator and Nutritionist with Scarsdale Medical Group; 914-715-7298; She can also be found at www.nutritionistliz.com; Scarsdale Medical Group; 914-723-8100; www.scarsdalemedical.com