Healthy balance, brains & bones: ‘watering’ the brain (Part 2)

Healthy balance, brains & bones: ‘watering’ the brain (Part 2)


Studies have shown that people who are obese in midlife have increased risk of getting dementia later in life.12 Among 1,800 middle-aged people in the Framingham Heart Offspring study, those with larger waists were more likely to do poorly on cognitive tests 12 years later.12 Mary Haan, epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, notes that abdominal obesity, or visceral fat, relates to cognitive impairment and type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular disease, which affects memory, is more common in people with type 2 diabetes.13


Blood pressure

Also associated with body weight and lifestyle behaviors, high blood pressure is thought to weaken the barrier that separates the brain from the rest of the body, causing toxic proteins to leak into the brain. During autopsies, people with untreated hypertension had more evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.13


Brain volume

Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of adults ages 55-plus, investigators found that aerobic fitness maintained brain volume and reduced brain tissue loss. Arthur Kramer, a professor of human perception and performance at the University of Illinois at Urbana– Champaign, explains that the brain’s gray matter decreases as we age, but simple activities, such as walking briskly three days a week, can increase its volume.14,13


Executive function

Community-dwelling women ages 65–75 years took part in 12 months of resistance training one or two days per week, or attended a balance and tone class two days per week. There was no change in the balance and tone group. But women in both resistance-training groups improved their executive function skills for selective attention (being able to stop one response to say or do something else) and conflict resolution (sorting out competing information, such as saying the word blue when it is written in green ink).15


Health goals: food for thought

Investigators are starting to discover that diseases of the brain may share some risk factors with diseases of the body.12 Diet, exercise and weight control can help reduce the risk. By choosing foods that lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and other diseases, individuals will be healthier and in better shape to exercise regularly.


Some foods are particularly good for the brain. Stacey Frattinger’s article on page 71, “Mind fuel: better your brain,” outlines eight brainpower foods that help keep people sharp. Use this educational handout to bring your clients up to date.


A multidisciplinary plan is another important tool for reducing disease risks. Based on what the research suggests, simple and smart health goals for clients include:

  • Engage your mind in something that interests and challenges you.

  • Whittle your waist.

  • Be strong with resistance training.

  • Keep stress and blood pressure levels low for better mood and cognition.

  • Prevent or treat hypertension and diabetes.

  • Eat smart.

  • Achieve and maintain cardiovascular fitness.


This article is provided courtesy of the International Council on Active Aging