How to Protect Your Brain and Keep it Healthy and Fit as You Age
Although the research is ongoing and not yet conclusive, it appears that specific lifestyle behaviors, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, can promote brain health and actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Many of these lifestyle choices have also been shown to lower the risk of other diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, which might contribute to Alzheimer’s.
Think Brain Fitness!
Experts say that just like other parts of the body, your brain may naturally lose some “agility” and level of performance as you age. However, it can deteriorate more if you don’t take care of it. A physically active and socially engaged lifestyle, along with good nutrition and mental exercise, is considered the best prescription for promoting brain health and delaying the onset of memory loss for as long as possible.
Choose a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle
The Alzheimer’s Association, recommends specific steps you can take to help keep your brain healthier as you age. In addition to helping you maintain a healthier brain, these activities might also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Each of the lifestyle factors listed below is important in its own right, but when practiced together as a collective regimen, they offer a powerful prescription for maintaining brain health and delaying symptoms of cognitive decline. For best results, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends a balanced lifestyle routine that involves:
- Exercising Regularly and Staying Physically Active — Physical activity clearly promotes brain health! It is essential for maintaining good blood flow to the brain and building new brain cells. Exercise can also significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and protect against those risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
In a recently published study titled, The Role of Physical Activity in the Prevention and Management of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers concluded that more than one out of every seven cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented through increased physical activity. The research demonstrated that as little as 30 minutes of light exercise daily could lower the risk of an individual developing Alzheimer’s. Neuroscientists recommend a variety of beneficial activities such as dancing, gardening, more frequent use of the non-dominant hand and leg, and walking 10,000 steps on a daily basis.
- Remaining Socially Engaged and Connected – Experts say that people who are regularly involved in social interaction with others maintain their brain vitality and reduce their risk of dementia. According to neurologist Dr. Paul Nussbaum, author of “Your Brain Healthy Lifestyle”, it is important to remain integrated in the community, to build a growing network of family and friends, to be actively engaged in life and to “always have a role and purpose for getting up each day.”
- Maintaining a Brain-Healthy Diet – A diet low in fat and cholesterol is highly recommended as the latest research suggests that high cholesterol may contribute to stroke and brain cell damage. From a prevention perspective, there is increasing evidence that a diet rich in dark vegetables and fruits — which contain antioxidants — may help protect brain cells.
Overall, a nutritious, balanced diet is essential for both body health and brain fitness. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture 2010) provides evidence-based recommendations on food choices for good health. It is also important to remember that water is an essential part of a healthy diet. It supports the electrical transmissions within the nervous system that help us to sense, learn, think and functioning effectively.
Giving Your Brain a Regular “Workout” – According to the National Institutes of Health, regular mental exercises during the senior years can improve brain health and help maintain the cognitive skills needed as our brains get older. Research suggests that mental decline as we age appears to be a result of altered connections among brain cells. However, keeping the brain busy and active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells while maintaining the important connections. A 2006 study reported that mental activities such as reading books, playing board games, or doing crossword puzzles could cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly a third.
With few if any drawbacks and many documented benefits, healthy lifestyle choices can improve your health and protect your brain. A comprehensive brain health strategy, consisting of the expert recommendations outlined above, can significantly improve your chances of maintaining a healthy, functioning brain and avoiding or significantly delaying the development of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as you age.
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