For years, we have been hearing and reading about the health benefits of daily exercise and nutritious eating. If we eat right and exercise, we will have a better quality of life in that we will have stronger, healthier hearts, lungs and joints. But are you aware that exercise and smart nutrition can also benefit your brain? It is true! Scientific research has shown that a healthy heart is closely linked to a healthy brain. Many of the factors that contribute to heart disease put one at a higher risk for cognitive decline and dementia (Alzheimer’s Association 2017). Thus, cardiovascular exercise such as walking strengthens the heart by fighting high blood pressure and, good nutrition decreases bad cholesterol and the risk of diabetes. When these two are done in conjunction, the risk of dementia decreases while brain health increases.
The promotion of brain health to reduce the risk of dementia is near and dear to the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission. The Association knows that since age is the greatest risk factor for this disease, Alzheimer’s-type dementia is on the rise due to our aging population. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a way to cure, treat or prevent irreversible dementias like Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies or the more than 170 different types. However, what we do know from scientific research, are ways to reduce risk. As mentioned above, exercise and eating right are key, but there are two other important lifestyle habits to adopt to decrease dementia risk and increase brain health; they are cognitive exercise and socialization.
The Today Show on March 31, 2017 presented a story about “Superagers.” Superagers are senior citizens who have managed to keep their brains agile and spry. When their brains were scanned and compared to brains of young adults in their 20s, there were no detectable differences. When one challenges his or her brain on a daily basis by learning a new skill, reading something challenging, and/or playing games and doing puzzles, the brain benefits greatly. Studies have been done where some people engaged in cognitive activity by playing games or reading material that was challenging for them, could recall information recently learned and remember it to a much greater degree than those who did not keep their minds stimulated through mental activity. The brain actually begins to form and nourish new pathways for connection among brain cells when one uses his or her mind in new and challenging ways. The more pathways one has the better one is able to guard against the effects of injury or diseases that may compromise brain functioning. The bottom line is “use it or lose it” and it’s never too late to start. (Alzheimer’s Association 2017)
We have discussed exercise, eating healthfully and cognitive stimulation as ways to decrease the risk of dementia; so how does socialization fit in? Of these four healthy brain strategies, socialization has been studied the least. Nevertheless, there is some research that indicates that connecting with others socially may benefit brain health and may actually delay the onset of dementia. Scientists aren’t sure how, why or if having a social network will keep the brain resilient against Alzheimer’s Disease, but some say that when people are able to build and maintain friendships it can act as a buffer against cognitive impairment. (Alzheimer’s Association 2017)
Now you know what to do to increase brain health and decrease the risk of dementia. So, let’s conclude with the Alzheimer’s Association’s (2017) “10 Ways to Love Your Brain.” 1. Read, 2. Quit smoking, 3. Be heart healthy, 4. Protect your head against injury, 5. Eat a healthy diet, 6. Get enough sleep each night, 7. Take care of your mental health, 8. Find a friend and be a friend, 9. Challenge your brain, 10. Break a sweat.
It is no surprise that The Alzheimer’s Association is the brains behind saving yours. Don’t hesitate to call the Helpline at 1-800-272-3900 or visit alz.org/Indiana for more information about aging with a healthy brain.
This article is sponsored by Kingston Residence written by Lori Stock. Lori Stock is a Care Consultant with the local Alzheimer’s Association.
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