Friday, July 06, 2007

An Active Mind Is a Healthy Mind

How many studies do we have to see before we accept that exercising our brains makes them highly likely to be healthy throughout our lives? The Chicago Aging Study from the Rush University Medical Center has just released results of yet another aspect of their large, multi-year study. This time, more 700 than folks with an average age of 80 were observed. The people who regularly and consistently engaged in cognitively stimulating activities--reading the newspaper, playing chess, seeing plays, reading and visiting the library--were 2.6 times less likely (almost three times less likely!) to develop dementia and Alzheimer's than those who did not engage in such activities. Even mild cognitive impairment, typically associated with age, was greatly delayed and reduced.

I find it interesting that so many of the activities described were interactive ones. In other words, other people were involved, as in a chess partner or seeing a play or going to the library. I believe we will find in future studies that positive interactions with others is a significant method of motivating us to keep our minds in gear.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Chocolate Is Happiness

We've known for quite some time that eating dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. But now, due to research at the University of Cologne led by Dr. Dirk Taubert and published in this month's JAMA, we know that very small amounts (30 calories) of dark chocolate eaten regularly (actually every day in the study) can have a significant effect. What is small? Just one small square of the usual-sized chocolate bar of the $1.99 (or more, depending on how fancy you get) type.

There are two things I love about this study, OK, three: (l) chocolate is really good for us (if we don't eat too much); (2) small amounts make a difference; and (3) like so many other things about our bodies and minds, regular, consistent intake of small to moderate amounts of dark chocolate is the key to maximizing the healthy effects and lowering cardiovascular risk (around 8% in the study, which is significant). So savoring that tiny sliver of delicious, dark chocolate placed beside your coffee cup in your neighborhood French bistro really makes sense. No need for guilt. Instead, feel grateful for cocoa polyphenols!

This news was big enough to make the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle today. We love our food, especially chocolate, here in the Bay Area.