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February 2, 2011

Food and the aging brain

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a post on nutrition topics. Have questions or ideas for future topics? Email healthsci@baltsun.com. This week, Deb Schulze (pictured) RD, LDN, weighs in on diet and fitness for seniors.   

Right now, there are about 77 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., which accounts for approximately 29 percent of our population. Sociologists define Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964. Regardless, one thing for sure is that none of us is getting any younger. Correcting dietary deficiencies may pay rewards later in life and now is the time to get started.

According to scientists, certain nutrients and chemical compounds are essential to human brain function. Recent and promising research presented at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease suggests lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and alcohol consumption can help prevent or slow the mental decline associated with aging.

Go for the Deep Colors

“Vitamins and minerals in plant foods provide protective antioxidants” says James Joseph, who heads the Neuroscience Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. “But fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains contain thousands of other types of compounds that contribute significantly to the overall dietary intake of antioxidants.” However, not all fruits and vegetables are created equal. To help pick the best with respect to antioxidant activity, Guohua Cao and Richard Cutler developed a procedure called the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. ORAC can serve as a guide for which foods to include in your diet. The ORAC rankings show blueberries with the highest rating followed by black plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, sweet cherries, avocado, navel oranges, and red grapes to name a few.

ORAC scores are showing up in charts and on some food and beverage packages and may be helpful in choosing foods to include in your diet. If you are unsure and do not have a ORAC score, “let color be your guide” since many foods that have a good deal of color are also very high in antioxidant activity.

Eat the rainbow, but don’t forget about the health benefits of less colorful white onions and garlic. Aim for 5 to 9 servings daily of fruits and vegetables, as well as high fiber whole grains.


Hold the Salt

A recent study showed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan may also benefit your brain. The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, while limiting meat, saturated fat, sweets, and salt. The study suggested that including whole grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods and nuts may also provide benefits for cognition in late life.

Add Some Fish

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that increasing fish intake rather than taking fish-oil pills, was associated with a 20 percent decline in the risk of dementia. In the study, data was collected from almost 15,000 people age 65 or older in seven nations and noted that as fish consumption went up, dementia went down. Other studies have found mixed results.

Most government health agencies suggest eating at least two servings per week of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel; canned varieties are good choices.

Move your body

Research has proven that activity such as walking for 20 to 30 minutes a day may help protect your aging brain. Older adults engaging in intermittent activity such as walking may have lower rates of cognitive decline compared to sedentary seniors.

Feed Your Brain

Remember, the benefits of good nutrition throughout the life cycle will reap rewards as we pass through each phase of our lives. As we age, it is important to continue a healthy lifestyle to support our bodies and minds. This includes a diet rich in antioxidants, daily physical exercise and mental activities as well.

Posted by Kim Walker at 6:30 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Nutrition
        

Comments

I am a 66 year old man who is very selfconscious of my physical, spiritual and mental health. So, I apprecate all this information about Health ad Wellness. I would like to add hat one does not have to go out to walk for 20 or 30 minutes. Due to the weather and also for security reasons, I do fast walking in my house everyday, from my living room (large one) though the dining room, and kitchen.

I am a 66 year old man who is very selfconscious of my physical, spiritual and mental health. So, I apprecate all this information about Health ad Wellness. I would like to add hat one does not have to go out to walk for 20 or 30 minutes. Due to the weather and also for security reasons, I do fast walking in my house everyday, from my living room (large one) though the dining room, and kitchen.

Great info! This is such an important topic!

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About Exercists
Andrea Siegel, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, covers mostly crime and courts in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, as well as legal issues. She wishes she was more physically fit, and, as she's more fond of chocolate than exercise, fitness is a challenge. Her partner on a one-mile-plus daily walk is the family dog, a mixed breed named Moxie, and she exercises at the gym where the D.C. snipers once worked out.
Jerry Jackson has been a photo editor at The Baltimore Sun for 14 years and an avid cyclist for more than 30 years. Inspired by the movie "Breaking Away," he started racing as a teenager in Mississippi when leather "brain baskets" were still the norm. He regularly commutes to work by bike and still enters several mountain bike races a year for fun.
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Patrick Maynard, who will be writing about running and walking, has been a producer for baltimoresun.com since 2008. In 2009, he tweeted on-course for the Sun from the Baltimore Marathon, finishing in just under 4 hours and almost managing to run the whole time. He sometimes walks to the Sun offices on Calvert Street.
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Leeann Adams, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun, also dabbles in content for the mobile website and iPhone app and covers the Ravens via video. She did a triathlon to celebrate her 40th birthday and continues to swim, bike and run -- none of them quickly, though. Her biggest fitness challenge is to balance working, working out, spending time with her husband and being a mom to a 6-year-old boy.
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Anica Butler, the Sun's crime editor, is a former high school runner and recovering vegetarian who spent more of her early-adult years on a bar stool than working out. She is currently training (though poorly) for a half marathon and is trying to live a generally healthier lifestyle. She also hates the gym.
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