There is no doubt that ageing affects our ability to remember more easily and clearly, and the hormonal fluctuations at menopause add to that. However, there are simple things you can do to stay sharper, longer.
The benefit of a book
Many people use crosswords or jigsaws to stay mentally active, but new research by Equazen shows that reading boosts academic achievement, increases our emotional intelligence, reduces depression and stalls dementia.
That’s where reading comes in as scans have even shown that our brains work differently when we concentrate on a good novel and reading produces lasting changes in the way our brains work. Reading and the right diet can boost brain power and behaviour at the beginning of life, and help us stay sharp as we get older. So get out that library card, or your Kindle, to gain these benefits from reading:
– Improved numeracy and literacy
– Greater creativity and imagination
– Increased emotional intelligence
– Improved communication skills
– Stress reduction
– Improved self-esteem
– Enhanced empathy
– Reduced symptoms of depression
– Delayed onset of dementia
– Reduction in symptoms of dementia
Read for a longer life and less stress?
Research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine revealed book readers live an average of two years longer than non-readers. Specifically, compared to people who read no books, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week had a 17 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years. So this means that reading for just 30 minutes a day could give you a major health advantage. Newspapers and magazines also offer some benefits, although not to the same extent as books.
Research conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis and colleagues from the University of Sussex in has revealed that reading is a powerful form of stress relief. Volunteers had their stress levels and heart rates increased and then tried a variety of stress-reduction methods to relax.
Reading worked best, outshining other stress-reduction techniques like listening to music, taking a walk or having a cup of tea. Stress levels declined by 68 percent after participants read for just six minutes probably because when you read, your mind is distracted from everyday worries and anxiety, while your muscles tend to relax. In addition, research shows reading leads to improvements in brain function, including significant increases in connectivity that persist for several days after the reading takes place.
If you tend to only read non-fiction you might to consider adding in a novel or two as it seems that reading fiction enhances a skill known as theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others’ mental states4 and show increased empathy.
Why we need Omega-3 fatty acids for brain health and activity
Philip Calder, Professor of nutritional immunology at the University of Southampton and independent dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, reviewed recent studies of the impact of long chain omega-3 fatty acid supplements on learning and cognition in healthy children, found that 7 out of 9 clinical trials showed that youngsters benefited in some way from taking a top-up
Compelling evidence of the importance of omega-3 for reading comes from the DHA Oxford Learning and Behaviour (DOLAB) study — a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of seven to nine-year-olds which found that a daily dose of 600mg of long chain omega-3 fatty acids produced “significant” improvements in reading in children who had previously underperformed in reading tests.
But it is certainly not just children who benefit as evidenced by the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. This tracked 1,111 women for eight years used MRI scans to show that those with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids also had larger brains. Of particular note was the fact that omega-3 fatty acids were associated with greater volume in the hippocampus, part of the brain, which is important for memory.
The importance of omega-3 fatty acids is also reflected in cognitive tests. One randomised control trial of 485 healthy adults aged 55 or older found that those who 900mg a day of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) significantly improved immediate and delayed verbal recognition memory scores after 24 weeks. Another found that taking 3g of omega-3 fish oil daily for five weeks led to significant improvements in working memory.
Data from the ‘Something Fishing About Reading’ report by supplement company Equazan also explored the interplay between reading, lifestyle and diet and suggests that the anti-inflammatory omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is known to protect DNA is also vital.
What are we missing?
As we age we are generally low in EPA and DHA as well as other nutrients which support the brain, such as B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. We may be worried about memory loss, but it seems that most of us fall well short of the recommended 450mg a week.
It seems that two out of five (40%) of over-50s are taking steps to try to maintain their cognition, but a very low one in ten of us take a brain-health supplement.
This is despite a growing body of evidence to suggest that a lifetime of intellectual exercise, such as reading, coupled with the right nutrition can help build brain power reserves that we draw on as we get older. Scientists call this phenomenon the ‘Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis’ which began with the observation that people who are academically high achievers, or keep mentally active, are less likely to suffer dementia later in life.
Dr Emma Derbyshire commented: “We know that diet and lifestyle have a huge impact on our physical health, and the more we learn about the neurobiology of the brain the more obvious it becomes that our diet and lifestyle also have a huge impact on our cognitive wellbeing.
“The brain may be built from fats, but in many ways it works like a muscle, and if we don’t use it, we begin to lose it. However, the fact that so much of our brain consists of long-chain fatty acids such as DHA really does provide food for thought — and shows how nutrition can fuel our thought processes. Taking a brain-boosting supplement such as Equazen 50+ is a sensible strategy to protect your brain power.”
Other key factors in memory loss
The vital other factors that can affect your memory are anxiety and stress, and again at menopause these are often very present due to the changing role we can find ourselves in. At a time when physically you are being challenged by symptoms such as flushes and weight gain you may also be dealing with caring for elderly relatives, the impact of children leaving home and insecurity about your role in life.
Brain fog, brain freeze, loss of memory – whatever you call it the effect is the same and as well as paying attention to your diet and increasing your reading habit a key element at menopause is usually oestrogen dominance.
That means you need help from progesterone to stay in balance as one of the symptoms of low progesterone and high oestrogen is memory loss.
As well as hormone balance if you are interested in alternative therapies then you may be interested in research from China which suggests that acupuncture may help slow memory loss. An analysis of five studies, which included data on 568 people with a type of mild cognitive impairment that often precedes dementia, showed that people who had acupuncture performed better on memory and mental tests and picture recognition than others who received nimodipine, a drug used for treating dementia.