Exercise, Brain ‘Cross-Training,’ Colorful Diet Improves Aging Process

SAN ANTONIO — Engaging in exercise, cognitive training activities and following a Mediterranean diet are key to a healthy aging process, according to a presentation at the U.S. Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress.

Marc E. Agronin , MD, of the Miami Jewish Health Systems and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, opened the presentation with a scientific definition of aging from Robert Arking’s book The Biology of Aging: a “time-dependent series of cumulative progressive, intrinsic, and deleterious functional and structural changes that usually begin to manifest themselves at reproductive maturity and eventually culminate in death.”

While this definition is “stark” and very technical, Agronin said “it’s an accurate expression of aging. Our bodies, our brains, they change. They do begin to wear off in many ways. We know where the journey ends.”

“There’s nothing untrue about this. But what I’m saying is let’s look at that and explore that, realize that’s not the only way we can define aging. [Because] the way we think about aging, define aging, influences what aging is for us.”

By age 85 years, nearly 50% of the population develops dementia, Agronin said.

Despite this, he encouraged the audience that not everything declines and some physical or cognitive aspects can improve.

To age “better” Agronin recommended exercise, cognitive training and a diet consisting of antioxidant-enriched foods and foods with low glycemic index.

Exercise can consist of walking, swimming, biking, gardening, dancing and other housework. Agronin emphasized the importance of engaging in exercise that is enjoyable to ensure that the practice is sustainable.

Recent studies on cognitive computer games and classes have indicated a moderate and enduring improvement in cognition among individuals without dementia.

“I think the secret sauce here is doing something mentally active that you enjoy – learning a new language, taking an adult education classes, reading music,” Agronin said. “The important thing is when looking at brain fitness recommendations, you have to cross-train. You have to do something new to challenge your brain. That’s the key thing here.”

Regarding diet, Agronin recommended moderate adherence to the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which consists of eating from 10 brain-healthy food groups, including vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and red wine. The MIND diet suggests avoiding red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheeses, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

To conclude the presentation, Agronin provided an edited version of Arking’s definition of aging: a “time-dependent series of cumulative, progressive, intrinsic and positive cognitive, emotional and behavioral changes that usually begin to manifest themselves at mid-life and eventually culminate in increased well-being.” – by Amanda Oldt

Reference:

Agronin ME. Building a better older brain. Presented at: U.S. Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress; Oct. 21-24, 2016; San Antonio.