TUESDAY, Feb. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Being good to your heart and making the right lifestyle choices -- exercising, learning new things, and staying socially connected -- may help keep your brain healthy as you grow older, researchers conclude.
"Many of the factors that can put our brain health at risk are things we can modify and control," William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer's Association, said in a prepared statement.
The report is published online Tuesday in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.
The report's authors reviewed previous studies and concluded that controlling cardiovascular risk factors plays an important role in maintaining brain health as people age. And controlling those risk factors is within most people's grasp: losing weight, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, avoiding smoking, and preventing or controlling diabetes are all proven heart-healthy activities, the experts said.
The report also found a close correlation between physical activity and brain health. Three large studies found that older people who exercise are less likely to suffer cognitive decline. But the report's authors said more research is needed before specific recommendations can be made about the type and duration of exercise that's best for the brain.
Certain factors did seem to boost brain health in old age, including "higher education level, higher socio-economic status, emotional support, better initial performance on cognitive tests, more physical exercise, moderate alcohol use, and use of vitamin supplements," the researchers said.
"Psychosocial factors, such as social disengagement and depressed mood, are associated with both poorer cognitive and emotional health in late life," they added.
Curiosity and a thirst for learning might help, too. According to the report, increased mental activity through life, such as learning new things, may boost brain health.
Currently, the genetic factors that impact cognitive and emotional health as people age are poorly understood, the authors said.
"This article points to the possibility that healthier living can significantly contribute to reducing the numbers of sick and mentally declining older people, and reduce health care costs," Thies said. "To accomplish that, we need more research to show us which specific combinations of lifestyle choices, and also future therapies, will maintain our brain and emotional health."
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about Alzheimer's prevention.
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