The Brain Protectors

Cognitive decline isn't inevitable. A study of 29,000 people shows how you can keep your brain sharp as you age.

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Today’s Health Upgrade

  • The brain protectors

  • Another win for coffee

  • Bad day? Try this 5-minute trick.

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The Brain Protectors

It used to be that aging meant inevitable decline. But just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you need to become obsolete.

Research suggests that a few lifestyle changes can slow down memory decline and keep you mentally sharp.

Scientists followed more than 29,000 people over a 10-year period and found that those who prioritized their wellness by regularly exercising, eating a balanced diet, not smoking, and consuming alcohol in moderate amounts didn’t decline like those who didn't embrace healthy habits.

Participants who followed a healthy lifestyle had a 30 percent lower risk of memory decline compared to those who did not.

What’s more interesting is that even people who were genetically predisposed to cognitive problems, dementia, or Alzheimer’s (because they were carriers of the APOE ε4 gene, which increases risk) had lower rates of decline if they engaged in healthy lifestyle behaviors.

If you’re looking to keep your brain sharp, the super-agers had a few common traits:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

  • Social contact twice per week

  • Engaging in a mentally-challenging activity twice per week

  • No smoking or alcohol

Another Win For Coffee

We talk about coffee a lot in this newsletter, and you might even have a cup within arm’s reach as you’re reading this. If so, you might want to take another sip.

Recent research suggests that a higher intake of coffee was associated with a lower risk of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

Some people believe that coffee causes GI distress, but needing to go is not the same as causing stomach issues. The scientists found that four or more cups of coffee per day was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of IBS, while 0.5 to 1 cup per day was associated with a 7 percent reduced risk. 

For decaf drinkers, the benefits might be linked to caffeine because the researchers did not see the same benefit for the non-caffeinated version.

Bad Mood? Try This.

Remember Pavlov and the dogs that were trained to salivate at the sound of a bell? What if you could apply a similar psychological trick and become happier by enjoying a healthy snack?

Research suggests you can train your mind and turn a piece of fruit into an instant mood booster.

Here’s how it works. The scientists wanted to see if you could condition your brain to react to fruit in the same way as a meditative technique known as progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a simple method where you take a long deep breath, tense all your muscles (think about squeezing your hands into fists), and then relax. Do this for 5 minutes, and it can lift your mood.

But here’s where it gets interesting. In the study, participants did progressive muscle relaxation followed by eating a piece of fruit. After just seven days, the participants could eat the fruit (without progressive muscle relaxation) when they were stressed and feel better.

But that’s not all. The 7-day training also reduced people’s desire to eat comfort foods during stressful times. Those who did the training experienced a 70 percent increase in their preference for fruits as comfort foods.

If you find that you typically eat “comfort foods” that are high in sugar, salt, and fat when you’re stressed, it might be worth a one-week experiment of combining relaxation techniques before eating fruit. Your brain will learn to connect stress relief with the act of eating something healthy, and that can help improve your mood and reduce cravings for foods you might want to limit.

Publisher: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Editors-in-chief: Adam Bornstein and Daniel Ketchell