How to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with age

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Jne Valokuvaus/Shutterstock

by Hayley Wright, Coventry University
Originally published in The Conversation, August 25, 2017

Research into how we can keep our brains healthy as we age has gained momentum in recent years. There is now an increased focus on the changes that we can makes to our health and lifestyle, which may prevent dementia. Here are some things that research has shown reduce a person’s risk of cognitive decline with age.

Sex

Our latest study shows that having more sex is associated with better cognitive function.

We recruited 28 men and 45 women, aged between 50 and 83, to take part in our study. We found that those who had sex weekly scored on average 2% higher on some cognitive tests than those who had sex monthly, and 4% higher than those who never had sex. These results were shown on tests of verbal fluency (such as naming as many animals as possible in one minute) and visuo-spatial abilities (drawing familiar objects from memory or copying complex pictures).

The association could be the result of the heightened levels of intimacy and companionship inherent in sexual relationships (that is, an increase in social contact), or there could be a purely biological explanation – where regular surges in arousal and release of sex-related hormones (such as oxytocin and dopamine) could be affecting brain function. Of course, as with the age-old nature/nurture debate, our answer could lie in a combination of the social and biological impact of sexual activity.

Could it be sex hormones that keep our brains young?
nd3000/Shutterstock

Sleep

Many studies show that getting enough sleep is important for preventing cognitive decline. A study of cognitively healthy people aged 65 and over showed that daytime napping is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline at two-year and ten-year follow-ups. Conversely, excessive daytime sleepiness and getting less than six-and-a-half hours of sleep at night are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline at ten-year follow-up.

A more recent study showed that longer sleep duration and poorer sleep quality are both associated with poorer memory in men and women aged 65 and older. These studies all support the advice that we should be getting around eight hours of sleep a night. Sleep disturbance in early adulthood is associated with poorer cognitive function in later life, which just goes to shows how sleep can affect our brain health across the lifespan.

Active leisure

New studies show that increased participation in social, mental and physical activities is linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults. This research shows a “dose-response” relationship, where the more activities we do, the slower the rate of decline becomes.

The following activities are good examples of the types of mental, social and physical leisure activities that are good for your brain:

● Mental: puzzles, games and quizzes, reading or even adding up your shopping bill in your head as you go around the supermarket.

● Social: visiting friends and family, regular phone or email conversations with people, going to the cinema or doing some volunteer work.

● Physical: gardening, housework, walking for around 30 minutes a day, or doing chair-based or sitting exercises.

The more you do, the slower the decline.
ABO PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock

Gender equality

Studies have found that women may be at reduced risk of cognitive decline, simply because of the activities they choose. There is little that we can do to change our gender, without drastic surgery of course – but we can be aware of the gender stereotypes and expectations that are all around us, which can affect the activities we engage in.

In a study of Australian older adults, there were notable gender differences in the leisure activities that people took part in. For example, women were more likely to engage in social activities, reading and volunteer work, all of which are known to slow cognitive decline. The way that cultures or societies perceive gender roles can affect people’s expectations of themselves and others. If this changes the lifestyle and leisure activities that men and women engage in, then it could well have an effect on cognitive abilities in later life.

Get an early (in life) start

When it comes to doing things to prevent cognitive decline, it’s never too early to start. Some studies show that interventions in older adults have little effect – but that could be because the participants are already suffering from cognitive decline. Studies mapping the rate of cognitive decline in older participants who do not yet have dementia or cognitive impairment, however, show promising results.

The ConversationWe all experience cognitive decline as we age. This is a natural process and occurs at different rates for everybody, much like declines in physical abilities with age. But it’s time we started addressing this much earlier in life, rather than waiting till middle age or older. It’s time for us to take a lifelong approach to keeping our brains healthy as we age.

Hayley Wright, Research Fellow, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

10 Films to Keep You Inspired After the Women’s March

Movies to remind you there’s hope in the fight for justice and equality.

By 
Reprinted from Yes! Magazine under a Creative Commons License

 

In the days since his inauguration, Donald Trump has given women around the country—and the world—new motivation to fight for equality.

After the Women’s March ended, which was estimated to be the largest peaceful demonstration in U.S. history, many were left wondering: Now what?

If you’re reading this, we’re confident there will be more marches, calls to senators, and civic engagement in your future. But in between those and the normal business of living, it’s important to stay inspired.

So we’ve compiled a list of films to do just that—inspire you, make you mad, and remind you that there’s hope in the fight for justice and equality.

1. 20th Century Women (2016)

When you want role models, or want to know how to raise a good feminist.

This film (in theaters now) follows an independent single mom, her teen son, and their housemates in 1979 Santa Barbara. When the mother, stellarly played by Annette Bening, asks her son’s girl friends to help him figure out how to grow into a man, they do their best, and end up teaching him to be a feminist in the process. It’s uplifting and honest.


2. Mustang (2015)

When you need an achingly beautiful reminder of why you’re fighting for equality.

Mustang follows five orphan sisters as they grow up in a conservative village in rural Turkey. Spirited and vivacious, they’re confined to their home as their family prepares to marry them off. It’s a good movie for anyone who wants to feel motivated to fight for women’s rights around the world.


3. Whale Rider (2002)

When you need to believe in the next generation of women leaders.

Set in New Zealand, Whale Rider is the story of a 12-year-old girl named Pai who knows she’s destined to be her tribe’s next chief. But in order to become their leader, she has to change the mind of her conservative grandfather, who believes the next chief can only be a man.


4. Miss Representation (2011)

When you want teen girls to understand that they are more than their pretty faces.

This documentary explores the ways in which American culture undermines women in power, and the way the media often reduces women to their appearance, rather than focusing on their substance. While some trappings of this film already feel a little dated (flip phones are featured in the opening scenes), the message and content are, unfortunately, not dated at all.


5. Sisters in Law (2005)

When you want to be inspired by brave women’s work for justice.

Two women magistrates in Cameroon work for justice and heal their community as they handle cases of those who have been neglected, abused, and raped. A documentary tear-jerker.


6. Frida (2002)

For anyone striving to find their own voice and live unapologetically, despite great obstacles.

Based on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, this biopic follows the painter through the dramatic ups and downs of her life. Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek, must overcome a debilitating childhood accident and fight for her own place in the art world when many overlook her in favor of her famous husband, muralist Diego Rivera. Despite the challenges she faces, Kahlo lives with unapologetic verve and passion—and does things her own way until the end.


7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2014)

When girls want a role model who defends her community, fights for survival, and wins.

In this post-apocalyptic world, a cruel gladiatorial game pits teens against one another in a fight to the death. Everyone expects Katniss Everdeen, a girl from the country’s poorest district, to lose. But her bravery and love of family and friends disrupt her world’s cruel social order.


8. Saving Face (2004)

When you’re having a hard time with family members who have different views from you.

This film follows a young Chinese-American surgeon, Wil, who’s scared to come out to her mother and her community. But when her mom becomes pregnant by an unknown man and comes to live with Wil, the two must bridge the gap between them with honesty, understanding, and love.


9. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

When you want to imagine that a post-apocalyptic future could still hold hope.

This film might be named after a guy, but it’s the women in this movie who steal the show, especially Charlize Theron, who plays badass desert renegade Imperator Furiosa. Over the course of the film, she and other brave women go from prisoners to revolutionaries, overturning a scary despot and fighting for a new reign of respect for the earth.


10. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

When you want to get angry about gender injustice.

Based on a real-life story, this film follows a transgender man named Brandon Teena who goes to Nebraska to make a life for himself. Along the way, he finds love but struggles to live in the midst of other people’s hatred and prejudice when they realize he was assigned female at birth. This tragic story reminds us that the fight for gender equality—for all—is far from over.

Producing in-depth, thoughtful journalism for a better world is expensive – but supporting us isn’t. If you value ad-free independent journalism,consider subscribing to YES! today.

Breena Kerr wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Breena is a writer and journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about feminism, social justice, crime, science, travel, psychology, gender, and sexuality. Her work has been published by The Washington Post, Vice, the Baltimore Sun, Teen Vogue, The Wisdom Daily, and many others.

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