How to be like Betty White when you get older

I aspire to be Betty White when I grow up; she’s witty, funny, brilliant, and beautiful. I can’t wait to coo, “My eyes are up here,” to the hot guy who’s just busted down my door, when I’m 90 years old.

“What’s the secret to her vivaciousness?” I wonder. She is probably genetically gifted a la George Burns, but I bet she has done more to preserve her looks and her smarts than just choosing her parents wisely.

What particularly enthralls me about Betty is her humor, and you can’t be that funny if you aren’t highly intelligent. So I asked my husband, who is a neurologist, for his top five tips on how I can grow up to be a saucy minx like Betty White.  Here are his suggestions in no particular order.

Eat healthy.  Nosh on brain-nourishing foods such as plant based omega-3 fatty acids, like you’d find in flax seed, walnuts, and canola oil.  High intake of omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect us from Alzheimer’s dementia as well as reducing our risk of stroke (brain attack).  Other habits associated with low stroke rates include consuming greater than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, avoiding meat, switching from whole to reduced fat milk, and my favorite — chocolate!  A study cited in January’s issue of the Lancet Neurology found that people who ate dark chocolate daily enjoyed a 29% reduction in their risk of stroke. Moderate intake of tea or coffee (greater than 3 cups per day) also connected with decreased incidence of stroke. The Mediterranean Diet appears to be the healthiest meal plan overall, decreasing the risk of stroke, cardiovascular events (heart attacks or rhythm problems), cardiovascular mortality, and all cause mortality. A Mediterranean Diet consists of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, fish, and red wine. It avoids red meat and sweets.

Exercise your body.  As little as 30 minutes of vigorous walking five days a week can reduce your risk of stroke by 40%. A study of 2000 men in Finland found that sedentary, unfit men had twice the risk of stroke compared to their physically fit counterparts. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your cholesterol, all of which promote good blood flow to the brain. Regular exercise is also considered one of the best preventatives against Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercise your mind.  The brain loves novelty and stimulation. Learning a new language or musical instrument can help preserve your memory. Endeavors that require thoughtful planning such as home do-it-yourself projects or gardening in addition to activities engaging manual dexterity like quilting or painting can be beneficial as well. Studies show that playing card games, which is a social activity that also engages short term memory, may drop your risk of memory loss too.

Stay positive.  Seniors with depression are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s type dementia. Those with a solid sense of life purpose and a belief that they have some control over their own lives are protected from this type of memory loss – they are 2.5 times less likely to develop the disease.  People suffering from untreated depression are also at higher risk for heart disease and early death.  If you are struggling with depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness and despair, insomnia, weight loss, alcohol abuse, and/or thoughts of harming or killing yourself, please seek help right away.

Socially engage. Seniors who remain socially active are less likely to develop dementia. People who are isolated are more likely to suffer from emotional distress, and as we’ve mentioned before, this can take it’s toll on the brain. Socially engaging may be particularly challenging for widowed men in their senior years, who are at the greatest risk of committing suicide. Women tend to form networks of friends and are more likely to reach out when widowed. Men don’t expect to be the spouse who is left behind and often don’t cultivate relationships to support them when this happens.  If you have a male family member or neighbor who is widowed, make it a point to check in on him regularly and encourage him to spend some time with other people.

Maybe if I practice eating healthy, exercising my body and mind, keeping a positive attitude, and hanging out with my friends, I’ll blossom into a Golden Girl myself.

Melanie Lane is a family physician who blogs at The Doctor Weighs In.

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