Did you know you can build new brain cells at any age? It’s true!
Whether you are in your 30s and constantly lose your car keys, or coming into your golden years and find it increasingly hard to recall events, there is hope.
To improve brain functioning, the most important things to look at are food and digestion, physical exercise, mental exercise and stress levels. Here is a brief overview of these aspects to show you how, at any age, you can become more “brain active”.
Food and Digestion: For foods with important brain nutrients that should be included in your daily diet, Yukoners have many local options.
Fresh fish have Omega-3 essential fats, farm-fresh eggs are a source of phospholipids, and fresh or preserved garden vegetables and moose/home-raised chicken liver are a rich source of B vitamins.
Wild cranberries, blueberries, saskatoons and mossberries have anti-oxidants to help remove circulating toxins (more on this below).
Also, flour from grains grown at Yukon farms are a source of whole grains that can provide our bodies with the fibre we need to keep our body systems clean and healthy.
Here is a favourite brain food recipe that I’ve adapted for a moist, juicy cake to serve as dessert or warmed as a side dish to liver, onions and gravy.
- 3 cups grated Yukon carrots
- 3 cups grated fresh yam
- 1 cup fresh blueberries or saskatoons
- 3 large farm fresh eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup crushed pineapple
- 3 cups whole grain flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- Combine yam, berries, pineapple, eggs, oil and vanilla.
Stir well (be sure to break apart egg yolks) and set aside for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease one large cake pan (or two 10-inch pans).
Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.
Stir in the wet mixture and finally the pecans.
Pour evenly into pan(s).
Bake for 50-55 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick. This cake is very moist and will need to cool before slicing.
A diet low in toxins is also recommended. Reducing toxic foods such as food colorings, preservatives, nitrates, artificial flavourings, sugar and tobacco smoke can help lessen the toxic load on your system and allow your body (and mind) to run more efficiently.
Making sure your liver and digestive system (as we age, our ability to digest and absorb nutrients decreases) is working optimally is also highly beneficial. This can be determined by seeing a nutritional specialist or naturopath.
Physical Exercise: Exercise reduces stress (stress has a direct effect on the central nervous system), increases blood flow to the brain and helps keep your heart healthy (people at risk of cardiovascular disease are also at risk of Alzheimer’s).
The Whitehorse Active Living Guide is available online and has a range of activities for all ages. For example, the Elder Active Recreation Association at Sport Yukon has a variety of options for seniors.
Low levels of sunlight exposure can impair cognitive function as well, so just going for a walk, ski or snowshoe on a sunny winter day is perfect brain medicine.
Mental Exercise: Puzzles and games, playing musical instruments, reading, and taking dance lessons are all examples of activities that keep the neural pathways in your brain stimulated and alive.
My grandmother, who is in her 80s and sharp as a whistle, plays solitaire and Scrabble and does crafts daily. I am pretty good at cards, but she’s got me beat more times than not!
Stress: Stress levels can damage the connection between brain cells, although it’s not necessarily permanent, especially if the stress is short term.
Stress reduction techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, journal writing and getting a massage are all beneficial during times of stress (for more information visit http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm) to ensure that no permanent damage occurs.
An excess of homocysteine (a problematic amino acid that our nervous system produces) can be an indication for Alzheimer’s. If you are concerned about Alzheimer’s you can get your homocysteine level checked through your family doctor via a simple blood test.
Don’t get discouraged if your memory is failing you, there is room to grow (brain cells that is). Just stay healthy, be fit and above all, have fun!