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Sweat your way to a sharper memory

Jerry Regan, left, and Ruth Brownlee show how to do the partner stretch, a two-person stretch that targets the back, abdominals and hamstrings.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Jerry Regan, left, and Ruth Brownlee show how to do the partner stretch, a two-person stretch that targets the back, abdominals and hamstrings.

Where did I leave my keys? What did you say your name was? Sound familiar?

Age-related memory loss is normal, not to be confused with Alzheimer's or dementia; only about 15 percent of adults over age 65 develop degenerative memory loss. Severe mental decline is usually caused by a diseased or damaged brain, rather than normal aging. You might be surprised to know that something as simple as putting on your shoes and going for a brisk walk could help improve those memory lapses.

One of the country's leading brain and exercise researchers, Arthur Kramer, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, is convinced that working up a sweat is critical for brain health. He says, "Across the board, exercise increases brain function, memory retention and other key areas of cognition up to 20 percent." And in even more good news, Kramer also tells us, "People who have chosen a lifetime of relative inactivity can benefit mentally from improved aerobic fitness. It's never too late.''

We have known for a very long time that exercise is good for the heart, now it seems that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.

When you exercise, the heart becomes stronger and is able to pump more oxygenated blood through the carotid arteries to the brain. It is estimated that the brain uses about 25 percent of the oxygen that you breathe in. And just as exercise helps to keep the arteries to the heart open and unclogged, it does the same for the blood vessels in the brain.

Studies have found that exercise performed consistently, for at least 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week, is very beneficial for both your heart and memory improvement; you may break up the exercise segments throughout the day. The important key here is consistency.

Chronic stress and memory

A prolonged period of being in the stress zone releases stress hormones that can injure and even kill cells in the hippocampus, which is the brain's memory and learning center.

"Stress may shorten the lifespan of brain cells," says Dr. Carol Lippa, a neurologist and director of the Memory Disorder Center at the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. "It certainly impacts memory functioning. Over and over again, I see patients' memories get worse during stressful events."

Since stress in our lives is virtually impossible to avoid, what is most important is how we deal with the stress. We need to initiate a relaxation response to establish metabolic equilibrium. Relaxation breathing, meditation and laughing are great tension and stress relievers.

Nutrition and memory

Just as saturated fats and trans fats are known to clog the body's arteries, they do the same to the brain. Did you know that approximately 50 to 60 percent of the brain's weight is pure fat? The brain needs fat for insulation of its many nerve cells. "Too much fat is better than too little, and nothing is worse for the brain than a fat-free diet,'' says David Perimutten, neurologist and co-author of The Better Brain Book.

However, it is essential that you eat healthy fats, limit the saturated fats and totally ignore the trans fats. The good fats are omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and tuna, and in olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, almonds, avocados and flaxseed. The negative fats, which make for poor cellular insulation, causing a weakening of memory, are processed foods, red meat and whole-fat dairy products.

Since oxidative damage from free radicals are continually affecting all parts of our bodies, including the brain, it is important to eat fruits and veggies, which have the antioxidants to combat the free radicals.

Prunes, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and watermelon rate high on the list of fruits good for the mind and memory. Broccoli, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, yellow onions and red peppers climb to the top of the veggie antioxidants.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning ANY exercise program. Sally Anderson, a trainer, is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Models Jerry Regan, 70, and winter resident Ruth Brownlee, 63, demonstrate this month's exercises outdoors at Americana Cove in St. Petersburg. Ruth lives on a lake in Ontario, where she enjoys swimming, hiking and boating. Jerry walks 3 miles a day and swims. Both Ruth and Jerry attend aerobic-strength classes three days a week at Americana Cove. They add exercise videos to their workouts to keep their muscles strong, as they have arthritis in their spine, hips, knees and shoulders.

Partner Stretch targets back, abdominals and hamstrings (back of thighs). Sit, facing partner, legs in a straddle position, with feet touching. While holding hands, one partner leans slightly back, the other partner leans forward, bending from the hips. Hold for several deep breaths, change positions and repeat. Tips: Do not over-stretch. If one person has longer legs, place feet inside the ankle.

Partner Squats work lower body. Stand, facing partner, with feet shoulder-width apart. Holding forearms, walk out until arms are fully extended. Lower into a squat position, keeping upper body lifted. Hold for 5 seconds, return to standing position; repeat several times. Tips: Keep knees over ankles and do not lock elbows.

Repeater Knee works gluteals, quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings and abdominals. Begin with leg in a lunge position, hands reaching forward, keeping arms level with ears. Contracting abdominals, bring knee in toward chest while bringing arms down, touching hands to thighs; do eight to 10 repetitions, repeat with other leg. Tip: Slightly bend knee of the supporting leg.

Overhead Press with Reverse Lunge works gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and deltoids (shoulders). Using weight of your choice, begin in a standing position with elbows bent just below shoulders, palms facing forward. As you step backward with one leg into a lunge position, press arms upward. Lower arms as you return leg to original position. Alternate legs and do eight to 10 reps with each leg.

>>FAST FACTS

Memory enhancers

1Stretch your mind. Take a college course, learn to play a musical instrument, tackle a new type of exercise, introduce yourself to dance lessons.

2Read, read, read, says Dr. Amir Soas of Case Western Reserve University medical school in Cleveland. "Anything that stimulates the brain to think." Read newspapers, magazines, books, listen to books on tape. If you are inclined to read fiction, try reading nonfiction. Jot down brief summaries of the books you enjoyed reading — a good memory skill.

3Playtime. Begin a new hobby, work crossword puzzles, play bridge, chess, word games such as scrabble. A cognitive psychologist in England found that when elderly people regularly played bingo, it helped to reduce memory loss and improved hand-eye coordination.

4Vary your routine. Avoid performing the same routine day after day. Make little changes.

5Social interaction. Being with friends encourages development of emotional, intellectual and social skills.

Sweat your way to a sharper memory 11/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:07am]

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