Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Go to Health: How to Preserve Your Brain, Muscles, and Bones

Your Brain – Keep it sharp. Here are some of the proven ways to help memory and brain function:

Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. Upper body exercise counts if walking is hard for you. Play music to keep you going. Ride a stationary bike in front of your TV. Get an exercise pal or join a class. Exercise will help you grow new neurons and oxygenate your brain.

Vitamin B12 is important to prevent brain shrinkage in people over 60. It is found in animal foods. Vegans should always take a B12 supplement. Some older people don’t absorb it well from food. Get a B12 blood level from your doctor, and take B12 tablets sublingually if you are low.

Eat vegetables and fruits, legumes, fish and poultry. Limit fatty meat and foods containing sugar, to prevent obesity and keep your arteries clear. Avoid too much alcohol and addictive drugs, legal or illegal.

Olive oil should be your major fat source. A compound in extra virgin olive oil called oleocanthal may help prevent Alzheimer’s. See the 6/5/13 column at sadjascolumns for details.

Get enough sleep: 7-8 hours, so that you wake refreshed. Sleep is essential for good brain functioning.

Learn something new: a new language, a new skill, a musical instrument, drumming, a dance routine. According to a 2009 Gallup Poll, 85% of Americans who don’t play a musical instrument wish that they could. You can! You will forge new pathways in your brain.

Don’t smoke - smoking will decrease the blood supply to your brain.

Your Muscles: . As we get older, our muscles grow weaker, and it’s important to work on staying as strong as possible. You don’t have to join a gym to keep your muscles strong, but if you do, enjoy your workouts. Walk daily, run in place, bike, dance, skip rope, garden, lift weights at home. Light weights are fine for beginners and many women. Resistance bands are useful. Invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer if you have never tried strength training. Take a class in yoga, Pilates, or dance. We have great classes in Bolinas. Use a standing desk so you don’t sit too much.

Vitamin D is important for muscle strength and to prevent falls and fractures. Many people benefit from taking 1000 IU daily as a supplement. Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about this. Keep your blood level of Vitamin D3 at 30 ng/ml or higher.

Don’t smoke - smoking will reduce the blood supply to your muscles and harm your lungs.

Your Bones: Osteoporosis is common in women after menopause – it is defined as bones that are porous, brittle and subject to fracture. It can also occur in men as they age. Your doctor can arrange a test called DEXA, or bone densitometry, that can diagnose osteoporosis. There are various medicines that help with this problem. Whether or not you take a medicine, you should definitely eat a diet with adequate calcium, possibly take supplementary calcium (to be discussed with your doctor) and take Vitamin D as noted above. Good foods high in calcium include non-fat or low fat yogurt, calcium fortified soy milk, kale, collards, watercress, arugula, broccoli, okra, beans, almonds, sardines with their bones, and many others. Make bone soup, by adding vinegar to a bone broth to help release the calcium. Aim for a diet high in green vegetables, nuts and seeds. There is preliminary evidence that using olive oil as your main fat will help to preserve bone strength.

Exercise, especially walking, running, dancing and resistance exercises help keep bones strong. When your muscles contract, your bones react.

Don’t smoke – smoking will weaken your bones.

Here’s an exciting new development: UCSF now has a service for Skeletal Health in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, developed and staffed by Aenor Sawyer, MD, who is a Bolinas resident whenever she can break loose from work. Those of you who know Aenor are aware that she is as compassionate as she is expert, and the opportunity to visit her new service is truly a blessing.

Sadja Greenwood, MD. MPH

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