Jeanne Tripplehorn 06.10.1963

Diet and Exercise

Prevent Macular Degeneration: Tips for Keeping your Eyesight Sharp


Do you love to read? If you do, then preventing Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) should be high on your list of priorities. AMD is a type of progressive eye disease that creates a blind spot in the center of your vision making reading very difficult,  if not impossible.

The risk for AMD increases as we get older, and women are at greater risk than men. Fortunately, it looks like there is something that we can do  to reduce our risk. The New York Times Vital Signs recently reported encouraging results from the Harvard Women’s Health study.  Women who had eaten fish at least once a week (for the past ten years) were 42% less likely to develop AMD than those who had eaten less than one serving per month. The good news is that you don’t need to go out and buy expensive fresh fish. Eating canned tuna (and other dark meat fish) appeared to have the most benefit.

Preventing AMD is really  just one of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to be useful in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and dementia. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. If you are worried about mercury then you’ll be glad to know that shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, and catfish are low in mercury. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish should be avoided because they tend to be have high levels of mercury.

A healthy diet and lifestyle can also help to  prevent AMD. Smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase the risk of AMD. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens such as raw spinach, kale and collard greens) substantially decreases the risk.  And,  of course, exercise works it’s magic again.  Research published in the British Journal of Ophthamology demonstrated that maintaining an active  lifestyle which included exercise (the equivalent of  walking at least two miles a day, three times a week) reduced the risk of AMD by 70%!

Can Margaritas Improve Memory?


It’s Friday afternoon and the end of a horribly stressful week.  I know that stress is bad for the brain and that this past week brain cells must have been dying off by the dozens.  Sure, I can protect my brain by producing stress-resistant brain cells through aerobic exercise. I know that I should go home and use the elliptical until I can’t stand up any longer. I should, I should, I should… but I don’t want to!  I’d rather get-together with my girlfriends, grumble about my week, laugh and drink a giant Cadillac Margarita. Luckily, there’s evidence that my plan may not be the worst thing for my brain. If fact, it may even protect it… 


 Recently, a large, systematic review of research on health behaviors and dementia produced some unexpected results. Moderate alcohol consumption tended to be protective against cognitive decline and dementia. So, it turns out that folks on either extremes of the drinking spectrum, nondrinkers and frequent drinkers, exhibited a higher risk for dementia and cognitive impairment. Is this not a fabulous finding ?


 Unfortunately, there isn’t a consensus on how to specify”moderate” drinking.  Some studies defined moderate drinking as up to three glasses of wine a day! The American Heart Association disagrees. In terms of cardiovascular risks, they define moderate drinking as one drink per day, such as 4 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz of 100-proof spirits. They also claim that wine is not necessarily better for us than other types of alcohol.  In their view, the jury is still out on that one.


Well, the best known benefit of moderate alcohol consumption is an increase in HDL cholesterol–the good cholesterol. Antioxidants may also play a role. So, if you are concerned about anti-oxidants but you want that margarita instead of a glass of red wine, enhance the antioxidants.  Stay away from those fattening, sugary mixes and use lots of fresh lime juice or make a pomegranate margarita. Fresh limes have lots of Vitamin C and flavinoids. Flavonoids are being studied for their antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and antibiotic properties.  To get the most juice out of those precious limes,  roll them on the counter and make sure that they are at room temperature before juicing.

Be careful not to  smoke or eat lots of chips while drinking your margarita.  The same review showed that a history of smoking elevated the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Midlife obesity had an adverse effect on cognitive function in later life.

There are added health and brain benefits from spending the evening with my girlfriends, kvetching and laughing, as opposed to alone on my elliptical. Keep an eye out for our post on the health and cognitive benefits of socializing and social support.  I do know that I come home in a much better mood. So, at the very least, my Friday night margaritas improve my family’s health and cognitive functioning.


Extend Your Stroll, Expand Your Memory


This just in from the New York Times Health beat: regular walking can actually expand the hippocampus.

 Researchers at the University of Pittsburg found that among sedentary men and women, those who walked for 40 minutes, three times a week had a 2% increase in the size of their hippocampus (on average).  For those who didn’t walk,  the hippocampus shrank about 1%. And these weren’t 20-somethings: the average age of participants was 60. Walkers also improved their performance on memory tasks more than non-walkers. Something to think about the next time you’re debating between taking that stroll or sitting on the couch.

Check out Paula Span’s column for more info and links to the study.

Save Your Menopause Brain and Combat Anxiety


Have you become a worry wart? Are you feeling more antsy lately? Well, you’re not alone. Women often complain that as they hit menopause they generally feel more anxious.  Some women get angry at themselves and think that by now they should have their act together. By 50 they should be getting better at managing life’s ups and downs – not worse! Well, even if there aren’t too many downs and plenty of ups, there’s a biological reason for increased jitters. The increase in anxiety is typically attributed to changes in estrogen and progesteron, hormones which have been shown to buffer against the body’s response to stress. After menopause, these hormones just don’t protect against stress like they used to.

Stress isn’t just bad for you mood…it’s bad for your brain, too. When you experience stress, your brain produces steroids to communicate to the rest of your body that there’s a problem. If these steroids stick around too long, they can literally kill your brain cells – especially those in the hippocampus (Remember? It’s the part of your brain that is super critical for memory). Over time, stress may even result in a wasting away or shrinking of the hippocampus.

When you already feel like your mind is turning to mush thanks to menopause, who wants to lose a single cell of their hippocampus??

The good news is that you can combat the effects of stress on your brain through… exercise! Yes, exercise, again.

Research suggests that aerobic exercise can make you less anxious. It looks like the brain cells you produce while exercising are better at dealing with stress.  The bad news is that it takes awhile to produce these stress-resistant cells. For rats, it took somewhere between three and six weeks. It’s still unknown how long it takes for humans.

If you know that you’ll be facing something stressful in the next month or two (like paying taxes or results from your kid’s college applications), do yourself a favor and protect your hippocampus. Start exercising now to get your brain into combat shape!

Improve Your Menopause Memory With Exercise


If you think that as you get older your brain cells slowly die and there is nothing that you can do about it – you’re wrong!

There is a way to create new brain cells … aerobic exercise!

Aerobic exercise can create new brain cells in the region of the brain that is critical for memory – the hippocampus. It’s the hippocampus where learning new information and retaining it takes place.  In fact, it’s where Alzheimer’s disease begins.

The Salk Institute in La Jolla can be thanked for discovering the initial link between exercise and new brain cell growth.  Researchers compared adult mice who ran on hamster wheels to those who didn’t. The mice who ran on the wheels developed significantly more new brain cells in the hippocampus.

But the key here is that the exercise must be aerobic!

To  improve your menopause memory you need to get out there and huff and puff.  Increasing blood flow and getting oxygen to the brain is how this all works. With increased blood flow to the brain comes more oxygen and more growth factors from all over the body that contribute to the birth of new cells, including brain cells. And, as I tell my patients, walking the dog and stopping at every tree doesn’t count as aerobic. You’ve got to break a sweat at least 150 minutes a week. This can be broken up into smaller chunks of time, like  20-25 mintues a day or 50 minutes three times a week. For brain cell growth, the magic really seems to happen after exercising regularly between 3 and 6 weeks.

Now, I know exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea– finding the right form exercise is critical to both staying injury-free and motivated. My favorite form of aerobic exercise is the elliptical machine. It was designed to be easy on the knees and you can use it rain or shine.  With your arms and legs going and your ipod plugged into 80s music, you can feel like you’re dancing.  The problem is that you may also feel like singing.  As my husband likes to point out, I may be wearing headphones but he isn’t.  If you have balance problems or physical difficulties, you can try a recumbent elliptical machine.  You sit while working out so there’s no danger of falling. My patients have told me that they used them in physical therapy and were hooked in no time. If you have access to a pool (an indoor pool if you’re in those chilly climates), you can also try jogging in the water.

When the weather is nice (or if you don’t want to buy a piece of exercise equipment that costs more than your first car)  power walking is a great form of aerobic exercise. Bend those arms, pump them like pistons, bend the knees and step lightly heel to toe to save your knees.  You may look like you urgently need a restroom, but just think of those new brain cells…and toned legs!

So stop complaining about your menopause memory, get an okay from your doctor and get out there! Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for to keep your brain fit.