A Finnish study has shown that making healthy dietary choices in midlife could lower your risk of dementia by almost 90 per cent. So it really is never too late to do the best for your health.
But what type of diet should you be looking at? The research suggested that vegetables, berries and fruit, fish and unsaturated fats were ‘healthy’, while foods like sausages, sweets, sugary drinks and saturated fats were classed as ‘unhealthy’. “The brain loves a wholefood diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and fish,” says Robert Hobson, Head of Nutrition for Healthspan. “Making time for breakfast can also help. Eating cereal at breakfast has been found to improve memory in healthy adults, increasing the speed at which new information can be recalled, and improving concentration and mental performance. This is partly because it boosts glucose levels at a crucial time of the day, and partly because fortified breakfast cereals are a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamin), which improves mood and clarity of thought.”
Ensuring you consume sufficient amounts of oily fish is also important. “Oily fish is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids that have been found to be very important for brain function,” explains Robert. “Making sure you eat sufficient quantities of oily fish – it often helps to top up your levels with a high-quality omega 3 supplement – means that you provide the building blocks for new brain cell connections and help to speed the transmission of messages from one brain cell to another.”
Dr Sarah Brewer’s top 3 tips for a healthy brain:
GP and medical nutritionist offers her top tips for keeping your brain healthy…
- Stop smoking
If you are still smoking now’s the time to stop. Although nicotine can enhance memory in non-smokers, it has the opposite effect in those who smoke. In fact, just thinking about smoking can impair thought processes, as the urge tends to over-ride other thought processing. And, in the long-term, smoking reduces blood flow to the brain which can increase the risk of developing dementia.
- Keep fit
Regular aerobic exercise – that’s any activity that gets you slightly sweaty and breathless but not so intense that you can’t chat to a friend – boosts blood flow to the brain helping the area associated with memory, the hippocampus, to flourish. It also improves the consolidation of information into long-term memories. Good options include brisk walking, jogging or running, swimming and dancing. You should aim for at last 30 minutes of activity most days of the week.
- Sleep well
Make sure you get sufficient sleep. Some types of spatial memory are only laid down if learning is followed by a period of sleep. And scientific research now shows that as well as consolidating information, the brain is also organising memories and picking out the most salient information during those quiet night time hours.
Could sitting down be as bad for you as smoking?
In other news, it has been suggested that women who sit for more than six hours daily are around 40 per cent more likely to die than those sitting for less than three hours a day, a study said. The figure was about 20 per cent for men, according to American Cancer Society researchers.
We should all try and follow government exercise recommendations that we take 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days per week. But is there anything we can do while we’re sat at our desks or on the sofa?
If you sit all day at a desk make sure your posture is correct: back straight, your shoulders back and the top of your monitor level with your eyes. Make sure your wrists don’t lie on the keyboard or on the mouse pad unless you have a proper rest. Don’t cross your legs and feet should be flat on the floor.
Do simple stretching exercises as often as you can such as rolling your shoulders and slowly flexing the neck backward and forwards. A good stretch of your arms, shoulders and roll your wrists regularly and your ankles.
Stretch your calves while sitting and lift up the balls of your feet and set them down and do this until your legs are tired and redo this will exercise calf calves.
Hand grippers are a good tool to invest in and are cheap, light and easy to use.
The cushion squeeze or use a rolled up jumper – this is also good for firm the bottom! Squeeze the cushion while clenching your buttocks, so you feel the inner thighs and bottom muscles contracting. Hold for five seconds and gradually relax, without letting the cushion fall. Repeat six times.
- Research by the British Chiropractic Association found that 32% of us spend 10 hours or more sitting each day and now shockingly some 50% of us don’t even leave our desks at lunchtime. Never sit in the same position for more than 40 minutes. Get up and walk around as often as you can. Why sit or talk or email someone when you can get up and walk to their desk. Packing also helps clear the mind.