Category: The Mentally Engaged Mind

4 Steps to Better Brain Health

The brain is much like a newborn baby. It is fragile and needs all of the proper care and nutrition to help it grow into a strong organ to carry us throughout our lifespan. We are sharing four important steps to better brain health that you can start today.

No. 1: Volunteer with today’s youth – A science-based initiative through Johns Hopkins University and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), called Experience Corps, found that older adults who volunteer in urban schools improved the educational experience of children AND the older volunteers also experienced meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health. Why? Because they were increasing their daily socialization and they had a reason to get moving early in the day – all things the brain loves.

No. 2: Eat the catch of the day – Well, only if the catch of the day is a fatty fish high in DHA omega-3. This specific omega-3 makes up about 30 percent of the structural fats in the grey matter of the brain. What’s more, it is responsible for 97 percent of the total omega-3s in the brain. If salmon, tuna, mackerel or herring do not grace your table at least twice a week, you should talk with your doctor about taking a DHA omega-3 supplement. It will help to fill in the gaps when fatty fish is not the catch of the day.

No. 3: Drink to better brain health – In this case, we are not talking about raising a glass of bubbly or toasting with your favorite ale. We are talking about hydration in the form of good old-fashioned H2O. Your body needs to stay hydrated to function properly and this includes your brain.

Memory and fitness expert, Nelson Dellis, shares his tips for staying hydrated throughout the day.

No. 4: Put one foot in front of the other – That’s right, get moving for better brain health. According to research published in the Journal of Aging Research, regular aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart pumping and sweat oozing from your glands) may increase the size of the hippocampus in the brain. The researchers found that resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.

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?

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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?




Throw Out Your Resolutions

UntitledWe are more than a month into the new year, so how are you doing with those resolutions?

If you’re struggling to keep up with your 2015 goal, you’re not alone. “So many of us look to the start of a new year to make big changes,” says Elizabeth Somer, nutritionist and author of ‘Eat Your Way To Happiness’. “Our intentions are great – we want to lose weight, be healthier, start a gym routine – but our goals are lofty and we get discouraged when we don’t reach them quickly enough.”

This year, why not drop the resolutions and adopt a year-round feel-good approach? By focusing on the good and making gradual changes in areas where you are unsatisfied you’re more likely to feel that sense of accomplishment. Here are a few ways to feel good in 2015:

  • Take stock: Instead of looking at what you need to be happier, appreciate all the good things you already have in your life. Give yourself a pat on the back for all of your accomplishments, big and small, from having a great relationship with your kids to cooking an excellent signature dish. For times when you need a nudge to remember your successes, try writing it down in a journal.
  • Eat Breakfast: A simple goal, but a worthy one. The benefits of breakfast are myriad  – starting your day with a healthy meal can give your energy, improve your ability to concentrate and even help you maintain a healthy weight. No time to sit down for scrambled eggs? Try something you can take on the go, like a smoothie. Even leftovers from last night’s dinner can work (don’t be afraid of veggies for breakfast!).
  • Supplement: While we’re on the topic of nutrition, an important goal is to get enough of the essential vitamins and nutrients that you need. Eating the right foods is important, but studies show that many of us aren’t hitting the nutritional mark with diet alone. Learn more about essential nutrients here: and talk to your medical professional to determine what supplements are best for you.
  • Try something new: Anything that you haven’t done before counts for this one. Pilates, a language class, a new recipe, organizing a community event. Challenge yourself and you might find something you love doing.
  • Reach out: It can be too easy to stay in and hibernate during the long winter, but social connection is a key element for overall health. Make a point to spend time with loved ones, reconnect with long-lost friends or meet new people in your community. Bonus – making plans with other people will actually force you to get out and be active.

Games and puzzle week

Did you know November 18-24 was National Game and Puzzle Week? Celebrate by playing your favorite board game with friends and family. Not only will you have fun, you will also give your brain a workout!

Research indicates that keeping your mind active may help to generate new brain cells and make new connections in the brain. You can stimulate your brain cells with activities such as crossword puzzles, attending lectures, enrolling in continuing education classes or memory games, like the free online game, Writing in the Stars.

What are your favorite activities to keep your mind engaged? 

The relationship between creative expression and aging

The National Center for Creative Aging distributed a newsletter earlier this month, which highlighted research conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center supporting the concept that creative thinking keeps the brain healthy.

The study associated creativity with openness, with regards to the measure of cognitive flexibility and the willingness to entertain novel ideas. Researchers have found several benefits of greater openness, such as longevity, lower metabolic risk, higher self-rated health, and stress management. An article titled “Creativity Predicts a Longer Life” published on the Scientific American website, covered the same study and says, “The linchpin seems to be the creativity associated with the personality trait—creative thinking reduces stress and keeps the brain healthy.”

The National Center for Creative Aging provides technical assistance, education, research and advocacy through a variety of programs to ensure that all people have an opportunity to participate in high quality arts engagement programs.

How are you creatively thinking? 

New Children’s Study

A study published online in PLOS-One Journal found that supplementation with 600 mg algal DHA for 16 weeks improves reading and behavior in healthy school-aged children with low reading scores. The Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Oxford Learning and Behavior (DOLAB) trial is the first large, randomized and placebo-controlled study demonstrating the benefits of DHA in reading and behavior among healthy school children.

In an analysis of 224 children with baseline reading scores below the 20th percentile, algal DHA supplementation significantly improved reading. Reading was also significantly improved in the subgroup of 105 children with baseline reading scores below the 10th percentile. Reading performance was evaluated using a standardized word reading test, The British Ability Scales (BAS II).

When comparing reading ages, results from the DOLAB Study also found that supplementation with algal DHA led to an additional gain in reading age; supplementation with 600 mg algal DHA for 16 weeks led to an additional 0.8 month gain in reading age in children with baseline readings scores below the 20th percentile.  In addition, for children with baseline readings scores below the 10th percentile, algal DHA supplementation led to an additional 1.9 month gain in reading age.

Interestingly, the results come at a time when many school-aged children lack sufficient reading skills. According to the most recent report card by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), students in the United States continue to struggle with reading, the most fundamental educational skill.

Four Dimensions of Brain Health

Though studies confirm that people of all ages benefit from incorporating DHA into their diet, most people eating a Western diet do not consume enough DHA. It’s critically important— especially for children—to consume an adequate amount of DHA to develop brain function.

According to David Perlmutter, M.D., Board-Certified Neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, along with increasing DHA consumption, it’s important for kids to have proper nourishment, enough social connectedness, plenty of physical activity and activities for mental engagement. These factors are known as the four dimensions of brain health and research has shown that incorporating these lifestyle factors may influence brain health and function.

  1. The Nourished Mind: Start a healthy diet young. Incorporate healthy foods into family routines that are low in saturated fat and added sugar. Try adding antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and brain-healthy foods such as good fats like DHA, including algal DHA fortified foods and beverages and algal DHA supplements.
  2. The Mentally Engaged Mind: School is a great time to challenge a child’s brain, but it’s important to continually stimulate mental activity. Suggest and take part in activities such as reading, playing board games, creative pursuits like dancing or painting, or learning a new language or skill.
  3. The Socially Connected Mind: Make time for everyone in the family to step away from the computer and video games. Encourage children to make human connections and engage in social activities, such as play dates, clubs and volunteering.
  4. The Physically Active Mind: Everyone in the family can get physically active for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Encourage children to play a sport or play with friends outside, and help them make smart decisions, such as getting enough sleep every night.

Click here to learn more about the DOLAB trial.