Keeping your brain sharp with physical and cognitive exercise

Contributing columnistMarch 22, 2014 

When we focus on our physical health, brain health often takes a backseat. But as health care moves toward a preventive health model, more emphasis is being placed on the importance of the inter-relationship between biological, emotional and social relationships.

This holistic approach is the key to overall health.

Many of the things you do to improve your overall physical health can also help improve your brain health.

While it's commonly thought that crossword puzzles keep your brain fit, physical exercise actually provides the brain boost you need. Exercising 20 minutes a day has been found to improve your brain's processing speed and memory.

Other healthy habits such as eating a diet low in saturated fats and high in antioxidants, and getting consistent, regular sleep are also important for brain health.

Working your brain through cognitive exercises that involve improving focus and processing speed also improves mental acuity — the ability to focus, concentrate and retain information.

Mayo Clinic and the University of Southern California did a study of almost 1,000 older adults and found those who engaged in moderate exercise and computer exercises decreased the risk factors for developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), the precursor to dementia. Significant improvements were also noted in processing speed, memory, and more importantly, participants reported positive changes in their daily life.

Individuals with fibromyalgia often experience what they refer to as a "fibro fog" that affects their ability to think clearly. For these patients, physical exercise is stressed to improve both physical and brain function.

Just like with physical health, there isn't one "silver bullet" that will improve brain health. It requires a holistic approach of nutrition, physical exercise, cognitive exercise, sleep and attitude.

Dr. Lacey Price is a neuro psychologist with KentuckyOne Health Neurology Associates

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