cognitive function

  1. Speed and strength now can predict health risks later

    You probably don't spend much time at all thinking about how fast you walk or how strong your grip is.

    But maybe you should -- because a new study shows how these basic tests could help predict serious health problems years down the road.

    Researchers from the Boston Medical Center measured the grip strength, walking speeds and cognitive function of more than 2,400 people with an average age of 62, and then tracked them for an average of 11 years.

    They found that the slowest-walking volunteers who were middle aged at the start of the study were 50 percent more likely to face dementia 11 years later than faster walkers.

    Slower walkers also had less overall brain volume -- another dementia warning sign -- and did worse on memory, language and decision-making tests, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

    That should be enough to make you want to pick up the pace as you walk -- and while you're at it, you might want to work on a firmer handshake, too: The study also found that people with a stronger grip at the age of 65 had a 42 percent lower risk of a stroke or mini stroke than those with weaker grips.

    That strong grip was also linked to larger brain volume and better performance on some cognitive tests.

    It's not the first study to link the telltale signs of frailty to poor health. One study from just a few months back found that people who walk the slowest have a much higher risk of an early death. Other studies have found that slower walkers are more likely to face heart attacks and other heart-related problems.

    It's not the walk or grip itself that's causing any of this, of course. These conditions are often the subtle early warning signs of physical or neurological problems -- and it might not always be obvious even to yourself when you've lost a step or two or let loose on your grip.

    But if you find yourself lagging behind your friends or you don't quite feel the power you used to, don't ignore it. Get yourself checked out now so you don't have to face these other problems later.

  2. The key vitamins that will protect your brain

    "Brain shrinkage" sounds scary enough. Seriously, who wants a shrinking brain?

    But in reality, all our brains shrink a little over the years -- and in most cases it's nothing to worry about.

    Some brains, however, shrink faster than others -- and since this rapid loss of gray matter is often a warning sign of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, you want to limit your own shrinkage as much as possible.

    And the best way to do that is with the vitamins you should be getting anyway.

    I've told you how B vitamins can help slow the shrinkage linked to dementia and stop or even reverse cognitive decline. Now, blood tests on 104 seniors with an average age of 87 finds that those with the highest levels of vitamins B, C, D and E have the biggest brains.

    Not coincidentally, seniors with high levels of these key nutrients also did the best on tests that measured certain cognitive functions -- specifically, the ability to think, plan and solve problems. They also did better on tests measuring visuospatial skills and global cognitive function.

    In plain talk, that means these vitamins can help keep your brain sharp enough to chase dementia away.

    Along with those nutrients, make sure you get your share of omega-3 fatty acids -- because the same study found that seniors with the highest levels of these essential fats had better cognitive function and less damage to the white matter of the brain.

    And don't forget while omega-3s can protect the brain, there's another type of fat than can rot it from the inside: the dangerous trans fats used in so-called "healthy" products like margarine.

    Seniors with the highest levels of those trans fats, which you'll find in everything from coffee creamers to snack cakes, had smaller brains and did poorly on cognitive tests.

    Keep in mind that food makers are allowed to round "low" levels of trans fats down to zero -- so don't trust the ingredients panel. Any product that has partially hydrogenated vegetable oils will have trans fats -- so avoid them, even if it says "trans fat free" on the label.

    It's not the first study to show that nutrients can slow or stop dementia. As I mentioned earlier, B vitamins have proven time and again to prevent shrinkage, reduce inflammation and boost brainpower.

    And while a good diet will include most of the vitamins you need to keep your brain sharp the exception to the rule is those Bs. You'll need more of those than what you'll find in food, so be sure to add a quality B complex to your regimen today.

  3. Hearts and minds: a healthy connection

    A sharper mind won't just help you ward off the signs of dementia – new research finds that keeping keen can also mean a healthier heart.

3 Item(s)