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Don’t forget you can slow down memory loss

Memory loss is on the rise. I forget why. The stress and technology of modern life must be part of it. All those TV screens, computers, cell phones and iPods plugged into our brains for so many hours a day, year after year. No wonder our little neurons get frazzled. Do they stop growing in protest to brain buzz 24/7? No one knows for sure.

But the good news is there’s something we can all do to slow down the memory loss that supposedly comes with aging.

Shoot your TV? Blow up your BlackBerry? No. I’m talking about exercise. What a shocker. Specifically, I’m giving you reason #297 for working out on a regular basis: Aerobic exercise is good for your brain. And what’s good for your brain is great for your memory.

This has been recently reconfirmed by a new study in the online proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s a small study - only 11 volunteers agreeing to have their brains MRI’d as they worked out on treadmills - but the results should have a big impact on your own decision to get fitter and stay active.

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When you do aerobic workouts, the study found, you increase the blood flow to your brain, specifically to the neurons in the hippocampus, even more specifically to the dentate gyrate region. The more neurons you grow there -- and hooray their numbers can increase - the easier it is to learn a new language, remember where your keys are, place a name with a face.

Memories, it turns out, are made of sweat.

Eat this up, five of the world’s best foods

Health magazine recently listed the top five foods women should eat at any age. Smart men, too. Memorize them, work those neurons, and include them in your meals and snacks, step-by-step, bite-by-bite:
  • CRANBERRIES. I’ve started to mix in dried cranberries with the wild blueberries on my morning cereal, and now I’m pretty sure I’ll live forever. Cranberries help fight off colds and stomach bugs, and help protect you against urinary tract infections, certain kinds of cancer and gum disease. I’m in favor of anything that fights gum disease.
  • FISH. Fish has always been a friend to the nutritionally aware. Seafood rich in omega-3s helps protect you against heart disease. Salmon, herring and sardines get high marks, too. Avoid fish from fouled farm waters or fish high in mercury and other toxins.
  • TOMATOES. Even out of season when they taste like old socks, tomatoes and tomato products are chock full of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is said to lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50 percent.
  • BEANS. Take these on board, with caution. Beans really are the musical fruit, but they are also a great source of protein, magnesium, potassium, folate and fiber. I’m reconciled to having more beans in my life. But I’m also learning to chew them much more slowly.
  • WALNUTS. Word is out. Walnuts may be a secret way to prevent blood vessel damage caused by eating high-fat foods. Chipmunks have known this for years, but it’s just now getting into the mammalian press. In a recent study, funded by the California Walnut Commission, eating about 10 walnuts with a fatty artery-clogging meal helped dilate blood vessels and reduce the inflammation and plaque that can lead to high cholesterol.

Strengthen your core

Next time you’ve got a minute to spare, and a floor nearby, try this effective core-strengthening exercise.
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Lie on your stomach. Breathe deeply until your tension releases. Then put your hands next to your chest -- elbows bent like a grasshopper, fingers forward - and gently raise your chest off the floor. Adjust your elbows to line up with your shoulders. Take a few breaths, your forearms resting on the floor, neck and shoulders relaxed, shoulder blades drawn down along your back.

Now for the challenge. Curl your toes under, exhale, and lift your legs off the ground. Keep your spine long, your head and neck relaxed. Engage - that means “squeeze” - your core muscles with enthusiasm. Don’t let this feel like torture. Play with your edge. Hold as long as possible, remembering to breathe. Then lower, recover and repeat tomorrow - planning to squeeze those core muscles a little harder and a little longer.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.