By Cristina Rivera
Can't remember what you were going to say? Lost your soccer game and practice schedule yet again? Not sure what you were supposed to pick up at the store? Some of us manage to keep a sharp mind while others get fuzzy as they age. Research is now looking at a growing number of athletes who are diagnosed with dementia later in life. These studies are finding a link between diet, lifestyle and sports related injuries and one’s risk of cognitive decline. No matter what your current age is, there are steps you can take to keep your brain (and your body) in shape.
Incorporate 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week. The omega-3 fats in fish oil protect the heart, but there is also growing evidence that they may also protect the brain. DHA is the most prominent fat in the brain, and studies show that people with Alzheimer's have less DHA in their cerebral phospholipid cell membranes than normal people. Taking DHA can replace the missing DHA. There are a handful of studies that have tried to see if fish or omega-3 fats are linked to cognitive decline, and they're promising. For athletes who have ever suffered from a concussive injury or any type of head trauma, eating foods rich in omega 3 should be included as part of the treatment plan. Aim for two or three servings of fish per week, if your don't eat fish, try taking fish oil capsules or vegetarian omea-3's.
Limit “bad” fats. It's known that saturated and trans fats are bad for your heart, but now there are studies that show they may be bad for your brain as well. Evidence shows that risk of Alzheimer's disease doubles among those who ate the most saturated fat versus those who ate. Further more, these fats are pro-inflammatroy, which means athletes who consume a diet high in saturated fat are more prone to injury. Limit consumption of fried foods, creamy sauces, fast foods, and baked treats (cookies, cakes, etc).
Eat leafy greens. Kale, lettuce, and raw or cooked spinach can keep you thinking straight. Studies show that vitamin E can help protect the brain. More studies need to be completed, but taking in foods like green leafy vegetables, nuts, and whole grains won't hurt.
Keep your blood sugar down. Blood sugar should be below 100. Numbers between 100 and 125 indicate pre-diabetes, numbers over 125 mean you're diabetic. Many studies link memory loss to diabetes, which may harm small blood vessels in the brain. Scientists say that it is possible that diabetes causes vascular damage that leads to small strokes. Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity daily and choose whole grain/complex carbohydrates (as opposed to enriched or white flour) to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Decrease Waist Size. Researchers now believe that extra pounds around your waist can jeopardize your brain. Studies show that people who are obese in midlife have increased risk of getting dementia or Alzheimer's later in life. Fat cells may release hormones and cause inflammation that may be harmful to the brain. Whether it's for brain health or not, shrinking an expanding waist can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Staying active in sports and remembering to balance calories in with calories out is the best way to maintain a healthy body weight.
Cristina Rivera is the President of Nutrition in Motion PC, a registered dietician, and a Board Certified Sports Nutritionist. Her clinical work at the NYU Hospital of Joint Diseases, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Bellevue Hospital has given her a diverse and skilled background in medical nutrition therapy. As a certified specialist is sports dietetics, Cristina has worked with numerous running and triathlon teams to design specific meal plans for athletes during training and on race days. She has also served as a consulting sports nutritionist for the NYU athletic department and currently consults for the Coca-Cola company. Cristina has been featured in Shape, Women’s Running magazine, Women’s Day, and on ESPN.com.
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