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Six Keys to Brain Health, According to an Alzheimer’s Researcher

Maria Carrillo’s regimen: fasting, omega-3s, kettlebells, and more

Maria Carrillo
“I drink a ton of water — probably 50 ounces just between my workout and coming to work — then have a bottle with me all day.” Photo: Lisa Predko

While no one’s yet devised a guaranteed recipe for age-proofing the brain, Carrillo is working on it. As chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, she circles the globe to coordinate research efforts on prevention and treatment of the disease. The South Loop resident, who turns 50 in May, bases her lifestyle choices on the best available evidence linking mind and body well-being.

Training routine

“Physical health is so important to brain health. I work out with a trainer at Phenomenal Fitness. We do circuits: kettlebell swings, jabs with 15-pound dumbbells, planks with step-outs. Other days, I run about five miles on the Lakefront Trail. I travel a lot, and my assistant knows that if a hotel does not have a treadmill, I cannot stay there.”

Smart supplement

“Every morning I take DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that may support brain health. Mine comes from flaxseeds.”

Eating plan

“I do intermittent fasting — there’s a lot of research supportive of it for healthy aging. I eat at 2 or 3 p.m., mostly fruit and protein: peanut butter, an orange and an apple, a tomato that I’ll eat with salt, low-sugar yogurt, a protein cookie, unsweetened applesauce, and ultrafiltered milk. That gives me about 45 grams of protein and a lot of good fiber, which fills me up.”

Mental games

“To challenge my brain, I read a lot. I usually choose something really compelling, like an autobiography. But I’ll also reward myself by reading something mindless.”

Friend boost

“Social activity is potentially protective against dementia. I’m very social. Work doesn’t even feel like work to me. And then there’s my family. My dad was one of 15, so I have almost 90 first cousins on his side. Knowing I have this network expands my capacity to deal with stress.”

Sweet treat

“I keep chocolate in my office. It serves two purposes: One is to make sure I stay strong against temptation; I’ll have one piece a day, if that. Second, it ensures people come by and say hi.”

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