New information about keeping mentally sharp

Most of us are interested in keeping mentally sharp as we grow older. Two new studies help show us how to do that.

Sticking away from amyloid

Amyloid is the sticky protein that clumps together to help cause Alzheimer’s disease. Who are among the most likely to develop these amyloid clumps when they’re older?

Answer: People who had risk factors for cardiovascular disease when they were middle-aged. They’re smokers, people who are obese, or who have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels.

That’s what researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and other U.S. universities found in a 24-year study of 322 men and women. None of the participants had dementia in their early 50s when the study started. When they reached their 70s, the scientists scanned their brains to see how much, if any, amyloid had accumulated and compared it with their health 24 years earlier.

Having just one risk factor for cardiovascular disease doubled the chances of having amyloid clumps, two or more risk factors tripled the risk.

The take-away: reducing the risk factors for heart attacks and strokes when we’re middle-aged also helps protect us from dementia later.

What can you do when you’re 50 or older?Weightlifting

Exercise.

Researchers in Australia reviewed the effects on thinking and memory from 39 studies of people 50 and older doing aerobic exercise, weight-resistance training, tai chi, and yoga.

They found:

  • Aerobic exercise, weight training, and tai chi improve cognitive function. Yoga does not,  although there were only two studies.
  • Exercise helps those who have mild cognitive impairment, as well as those who are cognitively healthy.
  • A combination of aerobic and weight training is the most effective.
  • Exercise should be at least moderate intensity (low intensity won’t do).
  • Exercise should be at least 45 minutes a session (less time won’t help).
  • Exercising at least once a week works, but 5 times or more a week produces much better results.

Sources: JAMA. 2017 Apr 11;317(14):1443-1450; Br J Sports Med. 2017 Apr 24. pii: bjsports-2016-096587.


Interested in joining a scientific study of diet and cognition?

The MIND Trial to Prevent Alzheimer’s is a three-year study that compares the effects of two weight loss diets (using lifestyle and behavioral changes) on brain health and cognitive decline. It’s a collaboration among Rush University in Chicago, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the National Institute on Aging.

Participants must be between the ages of 65 and 84, be overweight or obese, have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and be able to travel to Chicago or Boston six times during the three-year study.

For more information about the MIND trial, visit mind-diet-trial.org

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One Reply to “New information about keeping mentally sharp”

  1. Hi, thanks for this encouraging and interesting article. I’m wondering what the researchers characterize as “moderate” exercise. That would be an important bit of information. Was it based on average heart rate?

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