Health Beat – February 2014

Heart

Dr. Lesley Fernow writes a column called “Senior Matters” for the Piscataquis Observer in Dover Foxcroft. Valley Grange is privileged to have permission to use her past columns for our  “Health Beat” Feature and for the information to be reposted to the Maine State Grange website. Address your questions or comments  to lmf@fernowmedicalhousecalls.com, 207-992-6822. Please note that information is general in nature and specific questions should be addressed to your health care professional.

I often hear people joking about middle age “senior moments,” as though this is something to be expected as we age.  Behind these jokes is a natural worry:  am I developing dementia?  While it is true that our memory declines as we age, experts in aging have discovered that there are straightforward ways to delay this process and improve quality of life.

Since aging of the brain is closely related to cardiovascular health, the most important strategies involve maintaining heart health.  This means controlling blood pressure, exercising regularly, and controlling weight and cholesterol.  Preventive practices focused on these areas not only prevent heart attacks and stroke, but also are likely to reduce risk of developing cognitive (thinking and memory) decline substantially.

Other important brain health tools include eating a “heart healthy” diet, often also called a “Mediterranean diet”.  This means eating mostly plant-based food: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and legumes and seasoned with spices and herbs instead of salt.  Fats should be limited to olive or canola oil.  Fish and seafood should be eaten at least twice a week, and poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt should be eaten in moderate portions occasionally.  Meat and sweets should be eaten not more than a few times a month.  An optional glass of red wine once a day (not more) may also protect.   Following such a diet has been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease by 40% as well as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.

Other important factors in maintaining brain health include getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and “exercising the brain” by increasing social interactions, especially conversation.

We will be exploring some of these factors in more detail in future columns.  Next column we will address the health benefits of growing and eating fresh vegetables and local resources.

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