Shaping Up Your Body and Brain in 2013

Fulfilling New Year's Resolution Can Bring Lifelong Benefits, Delay Dementia
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At the time of year many people resolve to shape up their bodies, there's added incentive to follow through: Doing so can also boost mental fitness, potentially delaying the onset of dementia. With the number of new cases of Alzheimer's disease in the US projected to increase by 130 percent in 2030 compared to 2000, it should be an important motivator to make your good intentions a reality, says Dr. Paul Nussbaum . He is the director of brain health for Emeritus Senior Living and clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.  

Research cited in the NIH-supported journal "Health and Social Work" shows that learning and other measures can foster new neurons and new neural connections even into one's senior years.  "Knowing that brain fitness practices have the potential to delay dementia's onset, I encourage everyone to begin the New Year by making brain fitness part of their lives," Nussbaum said. 

Starting an exercise program is a key first step.

"Walking daily, dancing and other forms of aerobic activity help blood flow to the brain," Nussbaum said. 

Adopting a healthy diet is also important. Nussbaum recommends cutting down on processed foods in favor of those that nourish the brain.

"Fruits and vegetables are beneficial for cognitive health," he said. "So are foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, such as certain fish and nuts, and antioxidants, which are foods containing vitamins A, C or E."

In addition to physical fitness, Nussbaum says three other practices can have a positive impact on your brain:

-Socialization: Make an effort to connect and spend time with other people, in person rather than virtually. Research shows that isolation and loneliness increase the risk of developing dementia.

-Mental stimulation: The phrase "Use it or lose it" applies to the brain, which craves stimulation and challenges. Engage in mental activities that aren't initially easy for you, whether it's learning a new language, taking up Scrabble or another pastime you haven't tried before. Doing so will stimulate the cortex and build brain reserve.

-Spirituality: Research suggests that stress, which has been shown to adversely affect animal brains, is also detrimental for those of humans. It's important to slow down and take the time to engage in spirituality in the way that is most comfortable for you, whether its through daily prayer and regular formal worship or by meditating and reflecting.

"The statistics about Alzheimer's disease are alarming and they demonstrate how crucial it is to adopt a brain fitness program," Nussbaum said. "As 2013 begins, please resolve to incorporate brain health into your daily life. Besides knowing you are engaging in an important practice with lifelong benefits, I think you will find you truly enjoy it."

More information on brain health, including a survey and activities, are available at Emeritus.com/new-year's-brain-health.