Sleep, exercise, diet help brain age gracefully

  • By Barbara Quinn The Monterey County Herald
  • Monday, March 17, 2014 3:20pm
  • Life

It’s ironic. Here I am feeling stressed and losing sleep trying to finish a column about how to keep my brain from aging prematurely.

Turns out these are two culprits that can speed up the aging process of my poor brain, I learned in a recent seminar by neurologist Dr. Michael Lara.

Chronic stress turns on a type of cellular inflammation that interferes with my brain’s ability to regenerate, Lara told his audience of health professionals.

And lack of adequate sleep can negatively affect our ability to think clearly. Oh, how I know that.

I can avoid these problems when I get regular exercise and aim for eight hours of sleep at night, Lara said. Physical activity and adequate sleep help restore my brain cells and turn down the inflammatory processes associated with premature aging.

One way to get adequate sleep is to get enough magnesium in my diet, Lara said. This mineral works on nerve transmitters that slow the brain and make it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep.

How much magnesium? About 400 milligrams a day — the amount I can get in my daily diet if I include foods such as almonds, spinach, milk and soy foods, whole grains, beans, peanut butter, chicken and bananas.

Healthful foods contain other substances that fight off age-promoting inflammation and help keep my brain cells popping, Lara said.

Polyphenolic compounds — substances associated with improved mental gymnastics — can be found in foods such as green tea, nuts, berries, red wine and chocolate.

Red wine and chocolate?

Check. Careful though. Whereas green tea showed improvements in cognitive function at intakes of 4 cups a day, the optimal beneficial effect from wine was seen in daily doses of less than 4 ounces (1/2 cup). And in only about 1/2 ounce of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content.

Eating fish may help keep my mind intact as well. Numerous studies show that the omega-3 fats in fish (EPA and DHA) work against the natural inflammation that occurs in aging bodies and brains.

Omega-3’s actually work their way into cell membranes and keep them supple — the better for information to “flow” from one cell to the other, scientists say.

What about krill oil? It’s an oil derived from shellfish, Lara said. And like other fish, it contains omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA.

We can also spice up our aging brains with tumeric (a?k?a curcumin), a seasoning that appears to protect the brain from premature aging.

And it’s interesting, Lara said, that in India where tumeric is a common ingredient in foods, the prevalence of dementia is low.

Coffee — no cream or sugar, please — can perk up brain cells as well. Most of this effect is from the caffeine however.

Put it all together and methinks this is very close to the Mediterranean way of eating: more fish than meat and chicken, plenty of bright-colored berries, fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes, moderate use of olive oil and wine.

As it turns out this eating pattern has been found to fight inflammatory processes that contribute to foggy thinking.

So there really is hope for this aging brain — if I pay attention to my life choices.

I think I’ll go to bed now.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

More in Life

Secret garden: Privacy trees that won’t outgrow a small space

These plants offer some height to block out unwanted sights without taking over your yard.

‘Young Sheldon’ was born out of ‘The Big Bang Theory’

The hit TV show about Sheldon Cooper now has a spinoff series about him when he was a kid genius.

Home and Garden calendar for Snohomish County and beyond

Seattle Home Show 2: The fall version of the oldest and largest… Continue reading

Reminder: Historic Everett’s self-guided home tour is today

The featured home depicted in the tour poster painting by Everett artist Elizabeth Person.

Great Plant Pick: Panicum virgatum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This red-foliaged switch grass makes a good specimen but also creates a bold statement in a drift.

Plant these late bloomers to brighten up your shade garden

In this follow-up to a column on sunny borders, Steve Smith lists flowers to liven up a dark yard.

Do you know the joke about a set of special-order dishes?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A black-and-white design for colorful plates was sent to China…

Megyn Kelly hopes for a Trump-free zone with new daily show

She says her morning talk show, which debuts Monday on NBC, will not focus on politics.

Beer of the Week: 5 Rights Brewing’s Fresh hop imperial IPA

The Marysville brewery named its beer Wobbly the Laborer after the Industrial Workers of the World.

Most Read