Feed, Exercise Your Brain

At the last nutrition conference I attended, there were several prominent neurologists, each of whom delivered very convincing presentations on the connection between food intake and neurological disorders. Since there isn’t a real “cure” we must examine other strategies for delaying cognitive decline or managing neurological disorders as best as possible.

Today there is a limited selection of medications to help manage the symptoms of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. They are called “cognitive enhancing medications.” But what else can we do? Once again we turn to nutrition and exercise as two good strategies, both equally as important, when it comes to delaying cognitive decline and managing neurological disorders.

In the nutrition world, the health benefits derived from consuming a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids has been well established. In fact, it’s been referred to as “The Mother Molecule.” Research shows that omega 3’s play a fundamental role to our brain health at a cellular level.

For example, one study in the Stroke Journal showed that omega-3’s create a neuro-protective and anti- inflammatory environment in the brain that mitigates the damage following a stroke. Good to know! Additionally, Omega-3’s can help to reduce inflammation in the body, which is said to be the foundation of most if not all chronic diseases.

Also, omega-3s help protect against Alzheimers and dementia, with research showing a positive effect on gradual memory loss linked to aging. Some research has shown a specific role that omega-3’s play in mental health wellness. And lastly, omega-3’s deliver numerous benefits to the heart and arteries in terms of maintaining healthy blood flow.

Omega-3 is an essential fat that must be obtained from food that we eat since we can’t make it or produce it. So what should I eat?

Our food sources of omega-3s are varied: oily fish such as, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, lake trout, and herring. Other omega-3 rich foods are soy foods, omega-3 enriched eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, canola oil, wheat germ, small leafy greens and even fish oil supplements.

Self check: When is the last time you had a healthy dose of omega-3’s? Make it a goal to consume some of these foods every day or perhaps add a fish oil supplement to your daily routine.

For exercise strategies, research points to regular exercise and in particular, the higher the intensity you achieve the better off you’ll be. It’s all about “neuroplasticity.” The definition of this is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

In other words, the brains ability to compensate for damage, injury and disease by forming new connections between intact neurons is boosted with regular and to some degree intense, exercise. In order to reconnect, the neurons need to be stimulated through activity, which brings us back to our exercise strategies.

Many different activities fit the prescription i.e. walking, strength training, dancing, balance training, general fitness classes and more. But the key is to stimulate one’s brain beyond the usual day-to-day activities. Change your environment. Learn something new. This can be as easy as taking larger steps while walking and swinging your arms or walking faster. Maybe on a certain day try using weights that are one pound heavier than usual.

Embark on a new activity all together such as boxing or yoga. Enroll yourself in a new and challenging exercise class. Of course all activities should be geared to individual fitness levels but step outside the comfort zone and practice new moves. This is when neuroplasticity kicks in.

It’s not much to ask for your brain preservation. Everyone can benefit from exercising and eating healthy. But I think it’s safe to say, that ramping up your intake of omega-3 rich foods and lacing up those sneakers is important for a better quality of life and health for your brain and body.

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