Older Brains Can Be Smarter Brains

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brainAs we age, the brain compensates for slower processing by using more of its capacity for tasks that require reasoning and judgment.

Forgetting a name or two, taking longer to finish the crossword, or finding it hard to manage several tasks at once doesn’t mean dementia is just around the corner. These experiences may actually be signs that the aging brain is changing the way it works. In many ways, it’s actually working better. Older people have better judgment, are better at making rational decisions, and are better able to screen out negativity than their juniors, reports the April 2015 Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

“The brain begins to compensate by using more of itself,” explains Dr. Bruce Yankner, professor of genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging at Harvard Medical School.
Here are several ways an older individual may outperform his or her younger self:

Inductive reasoning. Older people are less likely to rush to judgment and more likely to reach the right conclusion based on the information at hand. This is an enormous help in everyday problem solving, from planning the most efficient way to do errands to managing staff at work.

Verbal expression. During middle age, many people continue to expand their vocabulary and hone their ability to express themselves.

Basic math. Splitting the check and figuring the tip when lunching with friends may come easier simply due to years of practice.

Accentuating the positive. The amygdala, the area of the brain that consolidates emotion and memory, is less responsive to negatively charged situations in older people than in younger ones. This may explain why studies have shown that people over 60 tend to brood less.

Read the full-length article: “Why you should thank your aging brain”

Also in the April 2015 Harvard Women’s Health Watch:

Do you need an “advanced” cholesterol test?

6 ways to enjoy adding fiber to your diet

How to drive safely at night

Harvard Women’s Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/womens or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

Easy Ways To Eat Smarter This Holiday Season

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healthysaladSubstituting foods that are lower in fat, salt, and sugar will keep holiday meals healthier.

Holiday dining is often full of meals and snacks high in calories, fat, and salt. But it’s possible to minimize unhealthy eating with a little planning, reports the December 2014 Harvard Health Letter.

“Particularly during the holidays, when we’re surrounded by foods that we do not eat the rest of the year, it is important to take a breath while deciding what to include,” says Debbie Krivitsky, a registered dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Substituting foods that are lower in fat, salt, and sugar is one way to stay healthier this holiday season. It will also lower calorie intake significantly, letting diners enjoy a larger portion for fewer calories. For example, one ounce of artichoke dip has 19 grams of fat and 312 calories, while four ounces of cocktail shrimp and one ounce of sauce delver just 130 calories and 2 grams of fat.

What are the best choices on a buffet? Krivitsky recommends going for salsa, hummus, and dips made with yogurt instead of sour cream, along with lean protein sources such as fish, chicken, or turkey. Don’t forget fruit and veggies. Think baked, not fried. And uses spices, yogurt, or lemon juice instead of calorie-laden sauces.

There’s no need to make the holidays a season of deprivation. Indulge in favorite foods, but when cooking try making healthier versions. That means using low-fat milk instead of cream in mashed potatoes and other foods. Applesauce is a great substitute for fat when baking.

And when temptation strikes, make sure “it’s the exception rather than the rule,” says Krivitsky, “and it is for a finite period of time.”

Read the full-length article: “Boost the health of your holiday buffet”

Also in the December 2014 Harvard Health Letter:

* A red flag for obstructive sleep apnea

* How electronic gadgets are changing doctors’ offices

* Surprising new ways to build knee strength

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $16 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).