You do not have to simply give in and let yourself or someone you love develop Alzheimer's Disease or other types of dementia. While you may not be able to avoid the past damage you have done to your body and brain, or prevent every possible cause of dementia, such as a brain injury or environmental hazards, there is no reason to simply let your memory go without a fight.
Studies show that people who make certain lifestyle changes can greatly reduce their dementia risk. I believe most people will think it is worth the effort.
Four Pillars of Brain Health
Recently, I attended a lecture presented by Alzheimer's Orange County. The speaker did an excellent job of concisely explaining the steps we can take in order to protect our brains from decline. She referred to her lecture as the Four Pillars of Brain Health, which are listed below.
Follow a heart healthy diet. Yes, this article is about brain health. However, researchers have discovered that anything which is good for the heart is also good for the brain. There are a number of beneficial books you may find helpful, such as the MIND diet, (Ad) the DASH diet or the Mediterranean Diet. They are all very similar and all of them will help your brain. Simply put, you should eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, unsaturated fats such as olive oil, and some lean meats. Avoid solid fat, sugar, salt, fried foods, fatty meats, and fast foods.
If you are at risk of developing diabetes, follow the diet your doctor recommends. If you already have diabetes, treat it carefully. There is a high correlation between diabetes and dementia. In fact, some researchers have referred to dementia as Type 3 Diabetes. If you want to protect your brain, you need to start by keeping your blood sugar at healthy levels.
Get plenty of exercise and take care of your physical health. The more you move, the more you increase the blood and oxygen flow to the brain. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that, "Sitting is the new Smoking." No matter how poor your current physical condition, you can do something. Sign up for a chair exercise class, yoga, or water aerobics. Go for regular walks in your neighborhood, even if you can only go a short distance in the beginning. Lift light weights when you are sitting and watching television. Any movement, even cleaning your home, will improve your physical condition, protect your brain, and keep you from spending endless hours sitting.
In addition, if your brain is important to you, you should stop smoking, make sure you get adequate sleep, keep your alcohol use to a minimum, handle your stress in healthy ways, avoid head injuries and see your dentist and doctor regularly for exams, blood tests and appropriate medications, when necessary, to handle problems such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
To learn more about lifestyles which are good for both the heart and brain, you can use this link to a list of helpful Blue Zones books. (Ad) They have invaluable information for anyone who wants to live a healthy, long life.
Exercise your brain. The jury is still out on whether or not it really helps to play brain games on the computer. What you should focus on is making sure you actually use your brain regularly to learn new things. Read books, play games which require a lot of thought, develop new hobbies, and take classes. Your brain is like a muscle and you do not want to let it atrophy. You are never too old to learn something new. Is your cell phone driving you crazy? Sign up for a class to learn all its little tricks. Have you always wanted to play an instrument? It is not too late. Planning a trip? Why not learn a new language? Challenge yourself. You may be surprised at just how much cognitive ability you still have.
Get socially involved with other people. In addition to developing new hobbies, socializing regularly is a fun way to take care of our brains. When I was a Camp Fire Girl leader for our daughters, they sang a song about friendship. The lyrics were, "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold." This is just as true as we age as it is for children. We will lose friends as we get older. It is very important we do not use that as a reason to sit home and isolate. That is terrible for our brain health! Join a club or social group. Sign up to sing in a choir, like the one pictured at the top of this article. Volunteer in the community, especially in a position which involves meeting other people. Get involved in a place of worship. Join in the activities at your local senior center. Whatever you choose to do, put some effort into meeting new people and getting involved in fun activities.
Whenever possible, choose activities which can help your brain in more than one way. For example, having a lunch group can also help you eat right, as well as maintain social connections. Signing up for golf lessons will help your physical health and give you the opportunity to meet new people. Learning to play bridge can benefit you both cognitively and socially. The bottom line is to stay active, keep moving, and make healthy lifestyle changes which are good for your heart and brain. Your body will thank you!
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Photo credit: Sonata retirement home choir in Florida - Sonata Twitter account