Never Too Late - January/February 2024

Healthy Minds for Life A Message from Lee Ryan, Professor and Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Arizona Good for the Heart, Good for the Brain

sufficiently severe that they interfere with their ability to live independently. So, the answer seems pretty simple, right? Control your weight, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise. But of course it’s not simple at all. It’s not that people don’t want to be healthier, or that they’re not sincere about making change. But let’s face it, changing habits that we’ve acquired over a lifetime isn’t easy, especially in a society that is built on sedentary activities like sitting at a desk, driving a car, and watching TV, and a diet based on easy-to-prepare but highly processed foods that are high in fat and sugar and low in fiber and essential nutrients. But we have to start somewhere. So here are just a few tips that can help us get started towards a healthier lifestyle: One food at a time. To start building a healthier diet, change your eating habits one food at a time. You might decide to add blueberries to your breakfast every day, or switch from white to whole wheat bread, or prepare one vegetarian dinner each week. All these changes (and many others) will result in a healthier diet. You don’t have to do it all at once – make one change, make it part of your daily routine, and be proud of your accomplishment. That will give you the confidence to make the next change, and the next, and so on. Build on your daily activities. Too often, people set up exercise programs that are overly ambitious, like going to the gym five days a week. They ultimately give up, because it’s just too hard to maintain. An alternative is to build exercise into what

If there’s one thing I could say to sum up all the scientific advice on how to keep your brain healthy, it’s this: Good for the heart, good for the brain. One simple phrase, easy to understand, easy to remember, but, it turns out, incredibly hard to follow. We’ve all heard the best ways to keep your heart healthy: Maintain a healthy body weight, exercise for at least 20-30 minutes per day, and eat a balanced diet that is packed with fresh unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. These healthy habits will result in lower levels of cholesterol, better control of blood pressure, and overall decreased risk for heart disease. A healthy heart will work more effectively and efficiently to pump oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients to every cell in the body, while also removing waste products and toxins that can damage the liver, kidney, and other organs. A healthy heart is also critically important for maintaining brain health as we get older. Hypertension and high cholesterol increase the risk for stroke, which is the leading cause of disability among older adults in the U.S. Sometimes these strokes are large with very obvious changes to motor function or cognition, or both. Other people experience multiple tiny strokes that result in a slow buildup of brain injury over time. Being overweight or obese also adds to the accumulation of damage to brain tissues as we age, interfering with the ability of brain cells to communicate with one another. Poor heart health can lead to significant problems with memory, thinking, and reasoning, which, in some individuals, may become

we already do every day. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs instead of using the elevator, or take a 5-10 minute walk at lunch. It may seem like nothing, but studies show that these kinds of everyday activities over weeks, months, and years lead to major health benefits. Make change with others. Studies also show that we’re most successful in building healthy new habits when we have a buddy. Find a friend who is interested in trying new recipes, going for a walk with you, and sharing your challenges and successes. You don’t have to do this alone. Of course, there are many other medical conditions that impact our health, so it’s important to work closely with your doctor to address each of them. But don’t forget the benefits of a healthy lifestyle that’s good for your heart, and good for your brain. You can find more information about the Precision Aging Network at our website: To hear about ways that you can participate in our research studies, email us at Lee Ryan is a Professor and Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Arizona. She is a researcher studying aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and is a member of the Precision Aging Network.

Page 8 | January/February 2024 Never Too Late

Pima Council on Aging

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