Healthy brain leads to happy retirement

May 16, 2012

Eating more fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids help keep brains sharp later in life.

As the baby boomer population approaches retirement age, new studies are being released discussing the many ways simple lifestyle changes can keep aging brains alert and focused so as to ensure older adults will enjoy their retirement years. While financial products such as life insurance and annuities can keep individuals' financial health in check, maintaining a healthy brain will keep retirees' happiness strong.

A recent study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences said memory functions decline as people get older, but certain activities can help preserve functioning to keep older brains operating like young ones. Just as pursuing a mentally challenging career can keep brains sharp throughout the ages, engaging in stimulating activities can also keep brains healthy once in retirement. Adults who are socially, mentally and physically stimulated show better cognitive performance with a brain that operates as if it were decades younger.

In addition, another study published in Neurology indicated that eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids could lower blood levels of the protein linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in foods such as fish, chicken, salad dressing and nuts. It is still challenging for healthcare providers to measure the levels of the protein, beta-amyloid, in the brain, but easier to measure the protein levels in the blood before it is deposited in the brain.

The researchers studied 1,219 senior citizens with no signs of dementia for about 1.2 years, monitoring their diet, and then testing their blood for protein levels. The researchers focused on how much saturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, omega 6 fatty acids, mono-unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D each participant consumed throughout the study. The results revealed the more omega-3 fatty acids an individual consumed, the lower their blood beta-amyloid levels were. Consuming just one gram of omega-3 daily more than the average person was linked to a 20 to 30 percent reduction in blood protein levels.

While the omega-3 fatty acids in fish might ward off Alzheimer's disease, a study presented at the EuroPRevent 2012 meeting in Dublin argued fish consumption could also play a role in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. The high levels of omega-3 fatty acids promote cardiovascular wellness, brain functioning and immune system support. The researchers recommended people should consume a fish dish at least twice a week for optimal results, or take omega-3 supplements derived from fish oils. However, the scientists believe consuming actual fish may be more beneficial than taking a supplement.

"This is because fish contain all sorts of other nutrients like vitamin D, selenium and iodine that may also be beneficial against CVD," said Daan Kromhout, from Wageningen University. "And we don't have the final proof that the benefits from eating fish come from the omega-3. Fish, it needs to be remembered, don't provide a total panacea against CVD. As well as consuming fish, people need to eat healthy diets, not smoke and be physically active."

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