Showing posts with label pillars of brain health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pillars of brain health. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Reduce Alzheimers and Other Dementia Risks - You Can Protect Your Brain Health

My mother died of dementia.  Her doctors suspected it was a combination of Alzheimer's Disease and vascular dementia.  It was heart-breaking to see an active, independent woman dissolve into someone who could not take care of even her most basic needs.  As sad as it is to admit it, some of my mother's lifestyle choices may have contributed to her dementia. For example, she began smoking when she was a teenager and did not stop until she died at age 86.  She also ate a diet which was high in sugar and saturated fats.  Fried chicken cooked in lard was our standard Sunday dinner when I was growing up. She loved donuts and ice cream sundaes.  Eventually, these behaviors lead to a massive heart attack at age 65, followed by bi-pass surgery and, a decade later, the development of dementia.  I am sure that if she had known the future consequences of her early behaviors, she would have made some changes.

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!

If you are interested in more information about how to stay healthy as you age, where to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, travel and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Photo credit:  Sonata retirement home choir in Florida - Sonata Twitter account

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Six Pillars of Brain Health - Lower Your Dementia Risk

As we age, many of us are concerned about memory loss, mild cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and similar brain problems.  While there are no guarantees we can avoid all the dangers, research shows that people who follow certain behaviors have much better brain health and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease and other types of dementia.  Those brain healthy behaviors are known as the Six Pillars of Brain Health.

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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