How to stay mentally sharp as you age

How to stay mentally sharp as you age

Most of us know what we need to do to keep our bodies fit, but how can we keep our brain fit? It turns out that the answer might be the same for both: Exercise.

An article in the Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a study that has been following a group of Scottish school children born in 1936. In 1947, at age 11, those children were tested for cognitive ability. Sixty years later, a group of them agreed to retake the same test.

In addition to the cognition test, they filled out lengthy questionnaires that examined things like family history, health history and level of physical activity. They also underwent MRI brain scans. The results? There appeared to be a direct correlation between physical activity and brain shrinkage. Those who were inactive had more brain shrinkage and greater cognitive decline. Those who were active had less. Alan Gow, one of the researchers conducting the survey, summarized it this way: “People who exercise more have better brain health.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the study didn’t find a similar correlation between brain health and things like social interaction or intellectual activities. In other words, if you want to keep your brain fit as you age, put down the Sudoku and pick up the barbell.

Fit by 40 Update

While we’re on the topic of health, I thought I’d give you an update on my own quest to get into shape. My trainer continues to come up with workouts apparently taken from the Rocky IV playbook (push this box, life this weight, chase this chicken). So far I’ve dropped ten pounds of fat and replaced it with five pounds of lean muscle. I still have a ways to go, but so far so good.

Thanks for the encouraging notes that many of you have sent. Hopefully some of you will use my story as motivation to start a program of your own. Especially now that we know how exercise can benefit our brain as well as our biceps.

Have a great week!

~ Joe

Photo by Kiran Raja Bahadur.  Used under Creative Commons License.
Houston, we have a problem.

Houston, we have a problem.

For the past year or so, I’ve noticed a disconcerting trend.  Each time I step on the scale, the number gets larger.  Has there been some sort of change in the gravitational pull of the earth or am I putting on weight?

In 2003 I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.  I weighed about 185 pounds and could run 10 miles without breaking a sweat.  Now I weigh 215 pounds and get winded chasing my daughter around the park.  If that trend continues, in 10 years I’ll weigh 245 pounds and will be pricing mobility scooters.

In life, there are certain problems that are easier to solve sooner rather than later (more on that below).  I turn 40 in December and getting into shape is not getting any easier.  Not only is my body clinging to calories like a tiger clings to its kill, but finding the motivation is getting harder as I get busier and take on more responsibilities.  If I want to be around for another 40 years, however, I need to put the excuses aside and reacquaint myself with physical activity.

Fit by 40

And so, about a month and a half ago I started going to a personal trainer.  I had been lamenting to my boss that I wanted to get in shape, but 1) I needed some accountability and 2) I needed to workout during the day because mornings and evenings were too busy with work and family.

As luck would have it, his son (who plays college football) had gone to a trainer for years.  My boss had recently started going as well and he invited me to come along.  Not only that, but he told me to take off work early three days a week and he would pay for it.  Hard to argue with that.

My first day at the “gym” was pretty humbling.  First off, it was not a gym, but a converted warehouse.  Imagine that barn in the middle of Russia where Rocky trained in Rocky IV and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about.  Lifting rocks—check.  Chopping wood—check.  Pulling Paulie on a sled through a snowstorm—well, you get the idea.

The people training there were serious: Elite high school, college and professional athletes; ultimate fighters (all wearing oxygen depravation masks to simulate altitude); and…me.

So far my time there has been great.  My mantra is “Fit by 40.”  The pounds have started to come off.  I have more energy.  Most of all, I feel good that I’m actually being proactive about a problem that I (and millions of other Americans) struggle with.

Why am I mentioning this?  Two reasons:

First, I don’t want to publicly fail in front of hundreds of readers who I respect and admire.  Thanks for the motivation!  🙂

Second, and more importantly, I wanted to get you thinking about issues or problems in your own life that need some sort of solution.  Too often we sweep our problems under the rug because we’re too busy or scared to deal with them.  Then someday, when we shed the competing tasks and responsibilities that used to drown out our problems (a.k.a. retirement) those problems come bubbling to the surface.

Rather than enjoying a meaningful, rewarding retirement we spend our time trying to salvage our marriage, get in shape, recover from a preventable illness, mend neglected relationships or figure out what we really want out of life.  Don’t ignore your problems.  They’re only going to get worse.

Is there something you need to fix?  Start down that path today.  If I can help, just let me know how.

~Joe

Photo by Laura Gilmore.  Used under Creative Commons License.
Retirement health: Foods that minimize Alzheimer’s risk

Retirement health: Foods that minimize Alzheimer’s risk

“Stuff You Should Know” is one of my favorite podcasts.  Hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, the show educates you on the basics of just about any topic in around 30 minutes.

I was listening to the episode on coffee recently when Josh mentioned that one of the side effects of a good cup of Joe is that it can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

As I’m sure you know, Alzheimer’s is one of those nasty diseases where we don’t really understand the cause and there is no cure.  One in 8 older Americans has Alzheimer’s and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Nothing can ruin retirement faster than a fatal diagnosis, so if there’s something I can do to minimize my chances of getting an incurable, brain-wasting disease, I’m all ears.

While there is no silver bullet, foods that are high in certain vitamins (B, C, D, and E), antioxidants, monounsaturated fats and Omega 3s have all shown some effectiveness in minimizing the risk of Alzheimer’s.  Here are some things to add to your diet from each category:

Foods high in antioxidants and/or Vitamins B, C, D, E,

  • Beans
  • Citrus
  • Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries
  • Artichokes
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Coffee

Monounsaturated Fats

  • Macadamia nuts
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil

Omega 3s

  • Fish (e.g. Salmon)
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed

Eat up!

~ Joe

Disclaimer:  As you no doubt already know, I’m not a doctor.  Take any health advice I have to give with a grain of salt (unless of course you have high blood pressure).