Less stress, better brain health

Try these four Zen tricks from a neuropsychologist to keep your cognition on track.

Less stress, better brain health
People who manage their stress levels may reap cognitive rewards. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Looking for ways to fight off Alzheimer’s disease? You may want to add stress management to your bag of tricks.

Older people who report feeling chronically stressed are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s in some people.

This is according to research involving more than 500 older adults in New York City—all age 70 or older—who are participants in a long-term study of the aging brain.

Those who reported having the highest stress levels are more than twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment as those experiencing low stress.

The study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood an older person will develop memory loss.

The findings suggest that treating stress in older people could postpone or even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s.

A new piece of the puzzle

“In health psychology they’ve been looking at stress and the impact on health for a long time, and finding relationships with heart disease and diabetes,” said Maegan Hatfield-Eldred, PhD, a neuropsychologist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group Memory Disorders Clinic.

“This is another piece we can add to the potential negative health impacts of stress: It could put you at higher risk for dementia down the road,” Dr. Hatfield-Eldred said.

This isn’t surprising, she said, because researchers have long known that stress interferes with memory.

“So if you’re chronically under stress, it makes sense that you would be at higher risk for an illness that has memory problems,” she said.

Yet, she cautioned against inflating the role of stress in the development of Alzheimer’s.

“Stress alone isn’t going to cause dementia,” she said. Rather, stress is “one factor (that) might affect your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.”

And the good thing about stress? It can be managed.

“We can do things to address stress, whereas your genes—the genetic makeup that puts you at risk for Alzheimer’s disease—you can’t do anything about,” Dr. Hatfield-Eldred said.

Dr. Hatfield-Eldred offers 4 tips for managing stress:

1. Know the cause

Identify the cause of the stress and do what you can to relieve it. “If it is a lifestyle situation—whether it be work demands, family demands, overextending oneself—start there,” Dr. Hatfield-Eldred said. “Try to simplify things as much as you can.”

2. Relax

If you can’t remove the cause of the stress, find strategies and activities to help you relax: deep breathing, hobbies, listening to music, meditation, yoga and exercise.

3. Check your perceptions

Watch how you’re thinking about and interpreting daily hassles and stressors.

“We know that what we tell ourselves or how we think about things affect our perceptions, our emotions,” Dr. Hatfield-Eldred said. “So if we look at a stressful event as this huge traumatic event, if we look at all the negatives that come with it, that’s going to be more stressful … than if we look at a daily hassle as, ‘Oh, this is part of everyday life.’”

Changing our perceptions of stressful situations can bring stress levels down, she said. Using positive self-talk and related coping techniques will have benefits for our overall health, including brain health.

4. Compensate for changes

If you’re older and you’re already experiencing mild changes in your thinking skills, that in itself can cause stress. To counter this, Dr. Hatfield-Eldred recommends using compensatory strategies.

“Making lists, keeping notebooks to keep track of things, keeping visual reminders up in the home, having people help you with things—that is going to reduce the stress that’s caused by some of those early cognitive changes,” she said.

Source : Health Beat More   

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Smiling treats, happy eats

Don’t let mealtimes fall flat with stale, stodgy recipes. Get your kids involved—and get creative.

Smiling treats, happy eats
Want to give healthy snacks that extra oomph in your household? Try dressing them up for a little appeal, like teddy toast. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Getting tired of your kids filling up on junk food between meals? Help them get back on the road to healthy eating.

Growing kids generally need two to three snacks between meals. Snacks should be provided at least an hour before meals.

The first step? Get organized.

  • Plan ahead. Discuss with your child the types of snacks they’ll actually eat. Get a list going of what you’ll need to buy.
  • Give them several options to choose from. The same snack every day can get boring really quickly.
  • Pick a day for food prep. If you’re able to prep a whole week’s worth of snacks at once, your future self will certainly appreciate it.
  • Get your kids involved. Recruit your kids to make a snack assembly line. Give younger kids an easy task such as counting out blueberries into a bag.

Choose snacks that combine protein with healthy fats. Avoid empty carbohydrates.

Some happy combinations to try:

  • Cottage cheese with peaches
  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Raw veggies and dip
  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • Whole grain crackers with reduced-fat cheese
  • Top celery sticks with hummus and diced bell peppers
  • Ice pops made with yogurt, 100% juice and fruit
  • Whole wheat toast with almond butter
  • Quesadillas

Sometimes a little creativity goes a long way in giving your children that extra nudge to try something healthy. Who wouldn’t love a snack shaped like a smiling teddy bear?

Here’s a recipe for teddy toast, a treat that’s sure to put a smile on your kiddo’s face:

  • 1 slice whole wheat bread
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 3 slices of banana
  • 3 blueberries (or raisins)

Toast one slice of bread. Spread peanut butter evenly on one side of the toast. Distribute banana slices and blueberries to create a teddy bear face.

Source : Health Beat More   

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