When you think of health what do you think about? Weight? Physical health? Heart health? Mental health? What about brain health? When was the last time you thought about your brain and what you can do to keep your brain sharp and functioning in tip top condition? If you are over 65, you’ve maybe thought about this a little bit. You may even be taking action and doing a few extra things here and there for your brain, and that is fabulous! But what about those of you in your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s? Research suggests that Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common diseases that causes dementia, starts in the brain 10-20 years before we even notice symptoms. So when we talk about brain health and what we can do to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia we need to be thinking about it now, regardless of your age.
While there are some risk factors that we can’t do anything about like age (the number one risk factor for dementia), our family history and genetics, there are other risk factors that we can do something about that are related to general healthy living and effective chronic disease management. The Alzheimer’s Association has a list called 10 Ways to Love Your Brain that summarizes these key lifestyle habits you can incorporate into your life to keep your brain healthy and prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They include (and are not listed in order of impact or importance):
- Hit the books: Formal education will help reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Take a class at a local college, community center or online.
- Butt out: Smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
- Follow your heart: Risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke—obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes—negatively impact your cognitive health.
- Heads up: Brain injury increases risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seatbelt and use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike.
- Fuel up right: Eat a balanced diet that is higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Catch some ZZZ’s: Not getting enough sleep may result in problems with memory and thinking.
- Take Care of your Mental Health: Some studies link depression with cognitive decline, so seek treatment if you have depression, anxiety and stress.
- Buddy up: Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Find ways to be part of your local community or share activities with friends and family.
- Stump yourself: Challenge your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Play games of strategy, like bridge.
- Break a sweat: Engage in regular cardiovascular exercises that elevates heart rate and increases blood flow. Studies have found that physical activity reduces risk of cognitive decline.
Whether you are 20, 30, 40 or 80, now is the time to take your brain health seriously and take action. It is never too late or too early to incorporate these healthy habits into your life. To get started set one small, measurable, and attainable goal each week. For example, three days this week I will replace my normal afternoon snack of chips with an apple. Tell someone about your goal to help you stick with it. For maximum benefit, incorporate more than one of these healthy habits into your life so make sure your next goal is related to a different area, like getting more sleep or increasing your physical activity. Remember, every little bit helps—doing something small is better than nothing at all.
Submitted by: Carrie Myers, Dementia Care Specialist, ADRC of NW WI
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