You can find detailed articles about each of the pillars by using the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to scroll through the Medical Concerns section and find links to a number of articles on this blog about the connection between Alzheimer's Disease or dementia to exercise, nutrition, brain games, sleep, social interaction and physical health. Below is a summary of the best behaviors to protect your brain.
Six Pillars of Brain Health
Physical Exercise: According to researchers, a minimum of 30 minutes of physical exercise three times a week can reduce your Alzheimer's risk by 21 percent. Exercise improves your memory and cognitive functioning because it increases the blood flow to the brain. It also causes your body to produce the feel-good hormones, serotonin and dopamine, so you feel better immediately. It also strengthens the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain which is responsible for storing memories.
Everyone should practice four different types of physical exercise - balance, flexibility, aerobic and strength training. The balance and strength training will keep your blood flowing and also protect you from falls, which is another way to take care of your brain. One bad fall resulting in a concussion or other brain damage could easily undo all your other effort. As a result, it is important to keep your muscles strong, engage in balance training, and avoid accidents in your home.
Nutrition: The best diet for brain health is called the MIND diet. It is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
To summarize this diet, the best foods to eat are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and a small amount of wine.
The foods to avoid, although they can still be consumed in small amounts, are red meat, butter or margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets, fried food and fast food.
Brain Exercises: It is important to challenge your brain regularly. Learning something new and challenging, such as a second language or how to play a musical instrument, is good for your brain. On the other hand, doing repetitive, easy activities which do not challenge you will not help your brain make new connections.
Good brain challenges include dancing, playing board games, taking a class, reading a book, taking a music lesson, learning a new hobby, researching a topic which interests you, or engaging in conversation during social activities. Yes, simply chatting with other people can help your brain, since it requires you to stay engaged and respond appropriately to what another person says or does. You can also find brain game apps or online games which will help keep your brain active.
Sleep and Relaxation: People who do not get enough sleep, or whose sleep is frequently interrupted, have 1.5 times the normal risk of building up the brain proteins which can lead to Alzheimer's Disease. This is because the toxins which form the amyloid plaques are cleared during restful sleep.
Make sleep a priority by having regular times to sleep and wake up, relaxing in the evening, avoiding vigorous exercise or caffeine in the evening, avoiding smoking or alcohol, and limiting your consumption of other beverages in the evening, which could cause you to wake up to go to the bathroom.
Social Interaction: People who do not regularly interact with other people in a meaningful way have a much higher risk of dementia, because social activity requires you to use a variety of areas of the brain.
If you want to lower your dementia risk, call a friend, volunteer with a charity, join a group, take a class, go to your church or temple, babysit your grandkids, or interact with other people on a regular basis.
Take Care of Your Physical Health: A general rule to follow is that anything which is good for the heart is good for the brain. If you follow the recommendations for exercise, sleep, and nutrition, mentioned above, you will have gone a long way towards taking care of your general health. In addition, seek medical help for any signs of serious health problems including obstructive sleep apnea, heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, depression or other medical conditions. Diabetics, for example, are 50 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease. Taking care of your disease can reduce this risk.
Finally, have your doctor check to make sure you do not have any vitamin deficiencies, particularly inadequate amounts of Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B12, or Folate. Not having an adequate amount of these substances in your blood can increase your risk of dementia. At the same time, you do not want to take megadoses of vitamins which you do not need. Not only can this be expensive, but it can actually cause health and brain problems. Check with your doctor and have your blood tested before taking nutritional supplements.
If you are interested in learning more about common health problems as you age, financial planning, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.
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