Four Lifestyle Factors that Affect Brain Health

Senior Couple Jogging In Park

What’s the most important thing we can do to maintain brain health as we age? According to a new study, it’s not one thing but a combination of several things that may help slow cognitive decline in older adults.

A recent study was done over three years with nearly 1,700 older adults who had mildmemory complaints, slow walking speed, and other daily living limitations. The study participants were randomized into four groups, each with a different regimen to follow. The group who were assigned nutritional counselling, exercise, social and cognitive stimulation along with DHA supplements showed positive results. Even the participants in this group who had a low baseline DHA showed significant results.

The study results reinforce what we already know. The Four Dimensions of Brain Health – a healthy diet, mental engagement, physical activity and social engagement are essential to maintaining our brain health. “The MAPT study shows us that we have some influence in helping to maintain brain health,” says Elizabeth Somer, nutritionist and author. “Lifestyle changes, like making sure you’re eating the right foods and being active for thirty minutes daily, can have a big impact on brain health.”

DHA is an essential nutrient for brain health  but most of us don’t get nearly enough through diet, says Somer. “97% of the omega-3s in the brain are DHA, so it’s no wonder the study found that DHA supplementation can support a healthy brain,” she says. “Aim for a supplement that has at least 200mg DHA.”

How do you take care of your brain health?

the four elements of



How to protect your eyes year-round

As the temperatures cool down (goodbye summer, see you next year!), the sun may be shining a little less brightly, but that doesn’t mean you should pack your shades away. Maintaining healthy eyes and vision is a year-round job.

5 ways to keep your eyes healthy throughout the year:

  • Wear sunglasses: Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to vision issues, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Look for sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB radiation and that screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. If you do winter sports or will be spending a lot of time outdoors, consider polarized lenses which offer additional protection from the sun’s glare.
  • Hydrate: Keep dry eyes at bay by drinking lots of water. If you’re going to be losing water (i.e. sweating), add in additional water to replenish your body. Keep a refillable bottle of water nearby throughout the day to remind you to drink up.
  • Wear protective eyewear: Don’t underestimate the potential for eye injury in everyday activities. Sharp tools, flying dust, harsh chemicals – all can be hazardous to your eye health. If you’re doing basic home repairs or intensive cleaning, don a pair of safety goggles. You can pick them up at many eyewear and sporting goods stores.
  • Eat well: We shared Vitamins in Motion’s infographic on nutrition for eye health in our last post. In a nutshell, look for nutrient-packed fruits and veggies and healthy fats to keep your eyes bright, shiny, and healthy. Lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins A, C and E and omega-3 fatty acids are eye-health superstars.
  • Limit screen time: Today, screens are everywhere, not just on our desktop computer. Tapping out an email on your smartphone, watching a movie on your tablet – too much time in front of a screen can cause eyestrain. To prevent this, follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take your eyes off your computer and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. If you can, take a quick walk during this time.

How do you keep your eyes healthy?

How to Plan a Family Reunion

Sure, family reunions can be crazy and hectic, but is there anything better than having family – some close, some far-flung, together in one place? The warm and fuzzy feelings brought on by reconnecting with loved ones have an added bonus: it’s great for your brain health. So, bring on the long-lost cousins and beloved grandchildren! To make planning a reunion stress-free, follow these tips:

  • Choose a date that works for most: Finding the one perfect day that works for everyone just won’t happen (it’s those busy social calendars), so accept that going in. Find a day that works for as many people as possible and most importantly works for you!
  • Delegate: The family that plans together enjoys the reunion together. You don’t have to do it all and, in fact, your loved ones will feel honored when you delegate some tasks, showing your trust in them. Have someone find a location, someone else can take on the music playlist, etc.
  • Capture the memories: Reunions are full of special moments and having someone on hand, whether it be a hired photographer or a snap-happy relative, to take photos will ensure that everyone will be able to literally look back on the day in the months and years to come.
  • Tell your stories: one of the most valuable things we can pass on to younger generations is our history – after all, it’s their history too. Take time to share stories from your life that your nieces, nephews and great-grandchildren might not have heard. They will be grateful for the insight into their heritage.
  • Take it all in stride: At any special event, there are bound to be a few hiccups. Don’t let it get you down. When the day is over and everyone is packed up and on their way home, they won’t remember what went wrong. They’ll remember being together.

Do you have any tips for planning a family reunion?

Large group of children running in the dandelion spring field

Challenge yourself: 5 ways to bring more art into your life

There are benefits to doing art for people of all ages. For those of us in the second half of life, art can be a compelling option for engaging your mind, one of the four dimensions of brain health ( Whether you are a dedicated knitter, an experienced painter or a total newbie who has no idea where to start, there are some many ways to bring more art into your life.

2014 Beautiful Minds finalist Carol Siegel
2014 Beautiful Minds finalist Carol Siegel

Here are a few ideas to get your started or to expand your repertoire:

  • Make a memory book: A book, or a box, filled with memories can be an incredibly satisfying project to take on. The look, layout and what memories you choose to preserve are entirely up to you. An added bonus will be the great feelings evoked by looking back on important times in your life.
  • Give the gift of art: Receiving handmade gifts is such a thrill, why not return the favor for a loved one? Think of useful, pretty, or fun items – like jewelry, candles or puppets (grandkids would love this one!). Seek out an online tutorial or classes held in your community.
  • Collage your feelings: A popular art therapy technique, making a collage is a great way to articulate your feelings. Maybe you have a goal you want to achieve this year, are celebrating a family milestone or grappling with a stressful situation – grab the scissors and start cutting and gluing images that fit your feelings. Finally, something to do with your stack of old magazines.
  • Get messy: art doesn’t always have to be sophisticated or refined, or even particularly skilled. You may not be able to paint a photo-realistic seascape, but you can definitely bring (finger) paint to paper. Why leave the fun, messy stuff to the pre-school set? Put down a tablecloth, throw on some old clothes and have fun!

We want to hear from you: how do you bring art into your life?




Eat Right: Spicy Thai ‘em Up Sweet Potato Soup

This warming, spicy soup,from Eat Your Way to Sexy by Elizabeth Somer, features nutritional powerhouse sweet potatoes, which contain vitamins B6, C and D and iron, magnesium, potassium and carotenoids.

  • UntitledIngredients:
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 cup chopped yellow onion
    10 cups sweet potato (peeled and cubed, approximately 3 1 /2 to 4 pounds of whole potato)
    2 minced garlic clove
    1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
    1/3 cup spicy mango chutney
    3 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
    2 tablespoons red curry paste
    1/3 cup vermouth
    6 cups chicken broth
    1 8-ounce baker potato, peeled and cubed
    ½ cup lite coconut milk
    ½ cup fat-free evaporated milk
    1 tablespoon honey
    juice and zest from one lime
    salt and pepper to taste
    2 tablespoons finely chopped peanuts
    2 tablespoons chopped cilantro


  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.Add onion and sauté, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes.
  2. Add sweet potato, turn up heat to medium-high, and sauté, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, ginger, chutney, peanut butter, and curry paste, and stir to thoroughly coat sweet potatoes.
  4. Add vermouth, stir, and simmer until liquid is slightly reduced, approximately 5 minutes.
  5. Add broth and potato, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until potatoes begin to break apart, approximately 30 minutes.
  6. Add lime juice and zest
  7. Transfer soup to food processor or blender and puree.
  8. Return to saucepan; add coconut milk, evaporated milk, and honey.
  9. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with peanuts and cilantro.

Makes 6 servings (approximately 2 cups each)

Nutrition Analysis: 464 Calories, 20 % fat (10 g, 2.6 g saturated), 67 % carbs (77. g), 13 % protein (15.1 g), 9 g fiber, 863 mg sodium.


Get Moving: Indoor Exercise Ideas

Some years, winter can seem endless. Between the cold temperatures, the early sundowns and (depending on where you live) the snow, it can be tempting to hide your sneakers in the back of the closet and vow to get back to a routine come spring.

Don’t give into temptation! While it seems counterintuitive, getting up and moving will not only make you feel better, it will give your more energy. So get off the couch and try one of these indoor exercise activities this winter:

  • 394920_471649996204165_1037458331_nBowling: According to The Bowling Foundation, more than 25 percent of Americans bowl each year. There is a reason this sport remains popular – it’s fun! In addition to the health benefits, there is the added bonus of social interaction. Research seniors bowling leagues in your area, or make your own.
  • Swimming: The best part of indoor swimming pools? They are warm year-round. Swimming is a great way to get cardiovascular exercise that is gentle on your joints. In addition to laps, many pools offer classes like Aquafit or even AquaSpin, where you can ride a stationary bike in the water.
  • Video games: To cold to venture outdoors, even to the car? Get fit in your living room. Many video game consoles, like Playstation and Xbox, offer fitness games along with sports games like tennis and golf. Improve your swing before spring!
  • Mall Walks: Get the stimulation and people-watching of a neighbourhood stroll while enjoying the temperate environment at your local shopping mall. Check to see if your mall has a walking program – some open the doors early in the morning for walkers and offer group walking programs.
  • Dance class: Shake off the winter blahs by taking a fun dance class. You can find a class that matches your interest and skill level – from ballroom dancing to Zumba to hip hop. An added health benefit: studies have shown that dancing can improve balance and walking speed and may decrease risks for falling.

What’s your favorite way to get active in winter?