Six Easy Ways to Exercise Your Brain and Body

When it comes to aging, there are some things beyond our control. Happily, staying fit—both cognitively and physically—isn’t one of them. Ahead, six easy ways to slow the sands of time, courtesy of local experts.

Exercise Your Brain

Play Mind Games

An August 2016 study from Mass General and Harvard says that practicing cognitive activities, such as reading, solving puzzles, and attending cultural events, may lessen the risk of developing dementia. As you might expect, challenging hobbies (think: learning a language) seemed to boost the brain better than passive ones, like watching your favorite Netflix show.

Sleep for Seven

In 2014, a research team from Brigham and Women’s found that women age 70 and older who slept five or fewer or nine or more hours each night had memory function on par with someone two years their senior. The magic number? Roughly seven hours, which researchers posited could preserve memory well into the later years of life. Better start counting sheep.

Say Om

A small 2013 Beth Israel Deaconess study suggests that meditation and yoga can slow the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Tests showed that the stress-reduction measures—when done in groups for at least two hours a week for eight weeks—actually strengthened some key brain connections and kept others from atrophying. Your new Zen outlook on life will be a nice side effect.

Exercise Your Body

Wander Wisely

Last year, a multi-institution team that included Harvard researchers found that people who tripled the government’s physical-activity guidelines—exercising for roughly 450 minutes per week—had a 39 percent lower chance of dying early than non-exercisers. That may sound like a daunting task, but many of those minutes came from moderate exercise, such as walking.

Stay Strong

“Someone’s physical function is really one of the absolute best tools for identifying whether people are going to maintain their independence as they age,” says Jonathan Bean, director of the Spaulding Research Center for Lifelong Health and Fitness. To preserve mobility skills, focus on strength training, endurance-building activities, core exercises, and flexibility.

Get a Grip

Just one more reason to hit Brooklyn Boulders this weekend: In August, a Boston University School of Medicine study found a connection between weak grip strength and an individual’s chances of developing neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke. Keep your clutch fierce with activities such as rock climbing and weight lifting.


Eat to Live

Fight four common conditions with your fork.

Alzheimer’s

The Mediterranean diet strikes again. According to a study from Harvard and Brigham and Women’s, replacing carbs with unsaturated fats, such as nuts and fish, may reduce your risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases by up to 19 percent.

Type 2 Diabetes

Great news for coffee addicts: Drinking three to five cups per day, Harvard researchers determined, may slash your chances of dying from type 2 diabetes, among other ailments—possibly attributable to its ability to regulate inflammation and insulin.

Heart Attack

Whether they come from walnuts or flax, omega-3 fatty acids seem to benefit heart health. So says a Tufts study, which observed that the most frequent consumers were about 25 percent less likely to die of a heart attack than those who didn’t have as much.

Breast Cancer

You should be eating fruits and veggies for many reasons. Among them, according to a Harvard study, is avoiding breast cancer. Young women and adolescents who consumed fiber-filled foods saw their odds drop by as much as 19 percent.

 

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Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com