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Keeping The Aging Brain Healthy

First Posted: 01/13/2012 8:14 am Updated: 05/16/2012 1:52 pm

While the aging of the brain in inevitable, the tools you need to keep your brain healthy later in life may be already be right under your nose. Recently, a slew of research has been released, all focusing on the human brain and cognitive decline, revealing a variety of steps we can take to keep the brain strong.

The next time you nag your children or grandchildren to turn off that pesky video game and resume their homework, pick up the controller as they stomp back into the kitchen. TIME reports that a new study shows the Nintendo game Brain Age can actually improve cognitive function.

The study's players showed improvements in processing speed and executive function, which involves organization and memory of details. On the downside, there was no shown benefit in other cognitive areas such as attention. Furthermore, memory was not specifically measured in the study. However, the research reveals hope on a larger spectrum. "These results suggest that there is a possibility which the elderly could improve executive functions and processing speed in short-term training," the authors write. And who are we to complain about an excuse for first dibs on the game console?

In addition, keeping your brain healthy could also be as easy as a trip to the grocery store. According to OregonLive.com, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University found two nutrient patterns that appear to promote brain health: one found in fruits and vegetables and an omega-3 pattern high in fatty acids found in fish.

On the flip side, what you leave out of your grocery cart can be just as important: As expected, trans fats still aren't your friend, OregonLive.com reports, "Trans fats appeared the most detrimental to cognitive function and brain volume in our study," said lead author Gene Bowman, a naturopathic doctor and assistant professor of neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. "Levels of trans fat weren't that high in the blood, so it doesn't take that much."

In an attempt to wield the powers of such nutrient patterns, Medical Xpress reports a group of researchers at McMaster may have found a "silver bullet" to similarly slow the aging of the brain. Itcomes in the form of a complex nutritional supplement containing 30 ingredients, including vitamins such as B1, C, D and E, along with beta-carotene, ginseng, green tea extract and cod liver oil.

The study, which focused on a region of the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease, used mice aged to the equivalent of a 70- to 80-year-old human. Mice who did not receive the supplement showed no ability to learn new information, while mice who had taken the supplement displayed learning abilities seen in younger mice and more effectively completed the task at hand. Furthermore, brain mass increased up to 10 percent for mice who took the supplement. The study's lead author, Professor David Rollo, is hopeful future human tests could open doors to create a supplement to slow neurodegenerative diseases in older adults.

Finally, people who quit smoking with the aid of nicotine patches may also be helping their brains NPR reports. In the largest trial ever performed looking at nicotine and memory improvement, lead researcher Dr. Paul Newhouse from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine studied non-smoking adults in their mid 70's with mild cognitive impairment.

Patients treated with nicotine did better on learning, attention and memory tasks. That doesn't mean non-smokers should start slapping the patches on their arms: Researchers found nicotine only helps with impaired performance, rather than normal performance.

See our slideshow below for 10 ways to exercise your brain.

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Gardening requires you to work with your hands, fine-tuning finger dexterity which can in turn enhance your brain. This activity also counts as a form of physical exercise, and another opportunity to use a variety of senses, from touch to smell.
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Filed by Erica Smith  |