Three Steps to Brain Fitness

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Crossword puzzleMADISON - Think of it as a recipe for brain boosting: Researchers are beginning to believe in a three-pronged strategy for keeping a mental edge and retaining memory.

"We're seeing baby boomers and even people in their thirties worrying about brain fitness," said Asenath LaRue, a senior scientist at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH). LaRue, a neuropsychologist at the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute, specializes in research into cognitive aging.

"It's not a stretch to think we may begin hiring brain coaches in addition to physical fitness trainers," notes LaRue.

While there aren't many controlled clinical trials on ways to keep your brain in shape, she says a variety of observational studies point to three main preventive actions:
  1. Be Physically Active: Regular activity, not necessarily planned exercise, seems to relate to brain fitness, according to LaRue. She says activities like gardening, dancing and even cleaning, among others, could increase your chances of maintaining brain health.
  2. Challenge Your Brain: Calculate. Do word-search games and crossword puzzles. Go to lectures, concerts and museums. LaRue said early observational studies have indicated the benefits of mental gymnastics and mind challenges.
  3. Stay Socially Active: LaRue says it appears that people who are active in broad social networks may hold up better cognitively than those who are less socially active.

"While we don't know at what point in an individual's life the three factors have maximum impact, the theory is that the better developed your coping resources, the more likely you are to withstand brain changes affecting memory and thinking," says LaRue.

LaRue does emphasize that researchers don't believe brain workouts will stop or reverse dementia and Alzheimer's disease. But they may forestall memory loss and confusion.

"It's not unlike heart disease. Once you have it, you can't reverse it, but with a combination of lifestyle adjustments and medications, many of the most challenging symptoms can be managed effectively," says LaRue.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates 5.2 million Americans have memory and language problems caused by Alzheimer's disease. That number is expected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2030.


Date Published: 05/04/2009

News tag(s):  neurology

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