Exercise and diet both play a part in helping to keep our brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental ageing process and helps us process information more effectively. There is all good evidence to show that the right kind of diet can certainly prevent cognitive decline.
Broccoli is a great source of Vitamin K which is known helps to strengthen cognitive abilities and also of folic acid, which can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Choline is found in egg yolks and when you eat eggs, your brain uses choline to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that may be important for maintaining memory and communication among brain cells, as shown in research where choline intake correlated positively with better performance on certain types of memory tests.
Sage has long had a reputation for improving memory and concentration. Although most studies focus on sage as an essential oil, it could be worth adding fresh sage to your diet too but add at the end of cooking to protect the beneficial oils.
Walnuts are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers studied the lifestyle habits of 6,000 people who were unaffected by the memory-robbing condition, and found that those who ate the most vitamin E-rich foods had a reduced Alzheimer’s risk. It is thought that Vitamin E may trap free radicals that can damage brain cells. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and wholegrains.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body which means they must be obtained through diet. These fats are important for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and our general wellbeing. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA. Good plant sources include linseed (flaxseed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss whilst having sufficient levels of both EPA and DHA is thought to help us manage stress and helps make the good mood brain chemical, serotonin.
Vitamin C is thought to have the power to increase mental agility and protect against age-related brain degeneration and one of the best sources of this vital vitamin are blackcurrants. Others include red peppers, citrus fruits and broccoli.
Richer in zinc than many other seeds, pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. They are also full of stress-busting magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, the precursor to the good mood chemical serotonin.
Research has suggested that eating blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss, blueberries helped protect the brain from oxidative stress, and may have worked to reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. You could also eat dark red and purple fruits and veg which contain the same protective compounds called anthocyanins.
Avocados are almost as good as blueberries in promoting brain health, rich in monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow in the brain, they may also help lower blood pressure, which can reduce your risks for hypertension or a stroke that could permanently damage brain tissue.
Certain B vitamins, B6, B12 and folic acid, are known to reduce levels of a compound called homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. B-rich foods include chicken, fish, eggs and leafy greens.
There is good evidence to suggest that a powerful antioxidant called lycopene found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. Cook tomatoes with a little olive oil to optimise absorption and efficacy.
Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate, steady supply of energy – in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Achieve this by choosing wholegrain cereals, bread, rice and pasta with a low-GI, which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, other carbohydrates such as white rice and pasta are a more unstable source of glucose and will cause energy levels to peak and then crash, leaving your brain feeling weak and exhausted.
It is said cocoa can improve verbal fluency and cognitive function in elderly people, while eating a daily portion of dark chocolate has been found to improve blood flow to the brain, so don’t feel guilty about that occasional chocolate bar.
And don’t forget the brain is about 80% water, so it is important for us to drink lots of fluids for it to function properly, if we don’t drink enough fluid, this can affect our mood and concentration. So a healthy diet and a good exercise program from your personal trainer and you will have the best chance to increase the odds of maintaining a healthy brain for the rest of your life.