Keeping brain power as you age

Q: I’m worried that I’ll end up with memory problems, like my mom. I’m 47, and she’s 79. What can I do to dodge that bullet? — Francine T., Chicago

A: We’re sorry your mom has memory problems, but that doesn’t mean you will. A new Mayo Clinic study shows that even if you have a genetic predisposition for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, making specific lifestyle choices can postpone symptoms for a significant number of years (nine in the study) and reduce non-Alzheimer’s cognitive decline, too.

First and foremost, you want to protect your cardiovascular system so it delivers the nutrients and oxygen that your brain needs to stay healthy. That calls for smart nutrition and plenty of physical activity (which also will help you manage stress and control your blood pressure — important steps for heart and brain health).

What you eat, or don’t eat, can help your arteries stay clear of plaque. So dump the Five Food Felons — added sugar and syrup, trans and saturated fats, and any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole — and eat lots of omega-3-rich fish, like salmon and sea trout, while aiming for nine daily servings of fruits and veggies. (Ask your doctor about taking 162 mg of aspirin daily; research shows that it may help protect brain function.)

Walking 10,000 steps, or the equivalent, at least five days a week also can protect or even boost brain power. One minute of aerobic activity equals 100 steps, so a 90-minute aerobics class is really good! Combining walking with strength-building exercise does the most to encourage growth and survival of new neurons in the brain.

But physical exercise is just one workout you need to give your brain. Flexing your brain’s mental muscle by taking up group activities, crafts or arts, reading or playing games can postpone or prevent cognitive problems, even if you don’t start until middle age or older. So today, resolve to enjoy the great food and the fun and games that will help you stay healthy and sharp!

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