Memory Maximizers: Exercise & Memory; Leafy Greens May Support Memory

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Exercise Part of a Comprehensive Prescription for Improving Memory

Exercising at least twice a week may help improve memory and thinking skills in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to guidelines for MCI treatment, published recently in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The guidelines referred to six-month studies that found twice-weekly workouts may help people with MCI when exercise is part of an overall treatment plan. MCI is considered an intermediate stage between normal, age-related changes in thinking and memory and more serious changes brought on by dementia. MCI usually doesn’t interfere with simple daily activities, but its symptoms can affect memory, decision-making and language. While exercise has long been known to be good for your cardiovascular health, it is increasingly being recognized for its brain-boosting benefits. In the studies cited in Neurology, researchers suggest that a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise may help delay the onset of cognitive problems later in life. Physical activity may also slow down the progression of MCI to dementia. The guidelines suggest aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or other types of exercise that get your heart rate up. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly, such as five 30-minute workouts. Researchers behind the new guidelines agree that 150 minutes is a good target, but found that even exercising for about 30 minutes twice a week is associated with improvements in cognition and memory. The guidelines listed no medication advice, as there are no drugs proven to control MCI symptoms. There were also no dietary recommendations in the new guidelines, but a heart-healthy diet is always better for the brain, too.

Leafy Greens May Help Support Memory

Eating at least one serving of leafy green vegetables is associated with a slower decline in memory and thinking skills, according to a study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Researchers questioned 960 people with an average age of 81 about how often they ate leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collard greens, and Romaine lettuce. None of the study participants had dementia at the start of the study. They were followed for an average of more than four years, and had their thinking skills and memory tested yearly during that time. They were also asked about how often they ate certain foods. The participants were divided into five equal groups based on how often they ate green, leafy vegetables. Over 10 years of follow-up, the rate of decline for people who ate the most leafy greens was much slower than those in the group that ate the least. The difference was equivalent to being 11 years younger in age. The results remained valid even after accounting for other factors that can affect brain health, such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, education level and the amount of physical and cognitive activities the participants engaged in regularly. While the study didn’t prove that eating more leafy greens actually improves memory and slows brain aging, it did suggest an association. There could have been other factors that also played a role. In any event, making these vegetables a more common sight on your plate is a good idea. These foods are packed with antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E, as well as folic acid. All of these nutrients are associated with better brain health.

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