What do your favorite wool sweater, your retirement savings account and your brain have in common? They're all better off if they don't shrink! But the brains of millions of Americans and Canadians with slightly elevated blood sugar levels are at risk for just that!
One study making headlines found that even a little extra blood glucose shrivels gray matter. Seems the hippocampus (memories) and amygdala (thinking) areas of the brain grew smaller in women and men whose blood sugar was in the prediabetes range, about 110 mg/dL on a fasting blood sugar test. (And if you progress from prediabetes to diabetes, as most people eventually do, you'll accelerate shrinkage even more!)
But there's a lot you can do to reverse prediabetes and keep your brain cells healthy and your neurons firing.
» 1. Break out your walking shoes. Exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons and new neuron connections by boosting levels of a protein called BDNF. Even a few 30-minute walks a week protect against cognitive decline, and they're more effective than brain games or spending time with your BFFs. We recommend that you aim for 10,000 steps a day -- that'll definitely give prediabetes the heave-ho.
» 2. Break out your sweats and heart-rate monitor. More vigorous physical activity (especially using leg and core muscles) increases neural connections and the size of your brain's memory-processing hippocampus. Get your heart rate up to 85 percent of your age-adjusted maximum for 20 minutes, three times a week for top benefits. (A woman's max age-adjusted heart rate is 226 minus her age; and man's is 220 minus his age.)
» 3. De-stress daily. Chronic worry and anxiety switch on a gene that blocks the creation of new nerve connections. Meditation and exercise are great de-stressers.
» 4. Get B's, C, D, E -- and omega-3's. Loading up on these nutrients found in produce, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereal, low-fat milk and omega-3-rich fish like salmon and trout reduces your risk for brain shrinkage substantially. People who didn't get enough omega-3 had 37 percent more brain loss, in one eye-opening report. You can also take 900 milligrams of omega-3 DHA daily and half a multivitamin twice a day.
» 5. Skip trans fats. Trans fats reduce brain size. Check all food labels. If you see "partially hydrogenated" fats, especially in baked goods and ready-to-eat frozen and canned meals, put the package back on the shelf.
» 6. Lower high blood pressure. Take your blood pressure readings seriously. Anything higher than 117/76 can damage blood vessels that supply brain cells with oxygen and fuel.
» 7. Stop smoking; avoid secondhand smoke; get your flu shot. Puffing on tobacco chokes the blood supply to your brain. (Visit sharecare.com for great tips and support for kicking butts.) Secondhand smoke and not getting your flu shots are both associated with overall inflammation. Avoiding inflammation in your brain makes you much smarter.
» 8. Find relief for chronic pain. Inflammation associated with ongoing back pain could thin your gray matter by a whopping 11 percent! Research has shown that chronic back pain can erode a cubic half-inch of brain matter -- about the size of a walnut -- in a single year.
» 9. Consider supplements that decrease insulin resistance. Cinnamon (2 teaspoons daily), turmeric (17 milligrams as a spice in food), purified omega-7's (210 milligrams daily) and coffee (more than two cups a day if your doc says it's OK for you) all decrease insulin resistance and may improve long-term brain function.
» 10. Get some sleep. Insomnia is another brain drain. Nix afternoon caffeine, de-stress before turning in, make sure your room is cool and dark. In the morning, snap up the shades and get some early light. Missing out on sun exposure also can downsize your gray cells.
If you can bring down your even-just-a-little-bit-higher-than-normal blood sugar, you'll make your RealAge much younger, extend your warranty and keep your brain sharper by six months for every year that you postpone or totally avoid type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information, go to realage.com.