When most of us think about staying fit we immediately think about our body from the neck down. However, brain fitness plays a vital role in nearly everything we do – thinking, working, playing, remembering, socializing, and communicating.
It’s predicted that when the first wave of baby boomers reach 85 in 2031, more than 3 million people over the age of 85 will have Alzheimer’s Disease. The cost of caring for them is estimated at $200 billion per year. The good news is that there is growing evidence that lifestyle can affect your brain health and risk for dementia. It’s never too early to take preventative measures!
Here are 10 ways to maintain your brain:
1. Head first
Cognitive decline is caused by altered connections among the brain cells. Keeping the brain active seems to help build reserves of brain cells and connections. Keep your brain busy every day by keeping informed about the world around you; playing board games, doing puzzles, playing cards, designing a garden, reading books, learning a new language, or taking a class.
2. Take brain health to heart
Make changes to your lifestyle that will prevent heart disease. Reduce stress, laugh often, and meditate. Meditation can help reduce levels of the hormone cortisol which is known to increase the risk of developing dementia.
3. Numbers count
Maintain your body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Limiting both sugar and salt can help significantly. Diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure are closely linked to dementia.
4. Feed your brain
Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables have high levels of antioxidants. These vegetables include kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, beets, red peppers, and eggplant. Fruits include prunes, raisins, blackberries, raspberries, plums, red grapes, and cherries.
In addition, cold water fish, almonds, walnuts, and pecans are good sources of vitamin E (an antioxidant). The most current research indicates these may reduce the risk of heart disease and protect brain cells.
5. Vitamins may be helpful
Try to get most of the vitamins you need in a healthy diet. You can supplement that by taking vitamin E, or E and C together. Vitamin B-12 and folate which are also helpful in lowering your risk of dementia.
6. Physical exercise pumps up your brain as well as your body
Exercise is essential for keeping steady blood flow to the brain. It may even increase new brain cells. Walking, running, dancing, tennis, hiking, swimming, and bike riding are just a few ways to keep moving. Get your family involved as early as possible. This can be a valuable family tradition that will bind you together for years to come.
7. Socializing is good for your brain!
“We don’t stop playing because we get old – we get old because we stop playing”. Research shows that those who regularly engage in social interaction maintain healthy brains. Sports, cultural activities, and close personal relationships seem to protect us against dementia. You can stay socially active at work, at home, or by volunteering in the community, attending church, traveling, participating in a book club, or attending lectures just to name a few. By contrast, loneliness being alone seems to correlate to faster cognitive decline.
8. Use your head – Avoid unhealthy habits
The World Health Organization found that smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. Developing healthy habits protects us from doing damage to our bodies and help us manage our diets in a reasonable way.
9. Heads up!
Avoid activities that might likely result in head trauma. Use seat belts and restraints, unclutter your home to avoid falls, and wear helmets when biking or on a motorcycle or scooter.
10. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep is linked to numerous health problems. One of the most significant problems with sleep deprivation is that the brain is not allowed ample time to recharge. Learning and memories are consolidated during sleep. Consistent, good-quality sleep can improve overall health.
We can make lifestyle changes today that will protect and enrich our tomorrows!
For more info on healthy aging, visit www.alz.org