Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits. When possible, combine these habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body. Start now. It’s never too late or too early to incorporate healthy habits!
1. Break a sweat!
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
2. Hit the books!
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class online or at a local college or community center.
3. Butt out!
Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
4. Follow your heart!
Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
5. Heads up!
Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
6. Fuel up right!
Eating a heart-healthy diet benefits both your body and your brain. In general, this is a diet that is lower in saturated fats. Research in the area of the relationship between diet and cognitive functioning is somewhat limited, but it does point to the benefits of two diets in particular: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet. These diets can help reduce heart disease and may also be able to reduce risk of dementia.
The DASH diet aims to reduce blood pressure:
- Eat foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.
- Consume whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts.
- Decrease your intake of fats, red meats, sweets, sugared beverages and sodium.
The Mediterranean diet incorporates different principles of healthy eating that are typically found in the areas bordering the Mediterranean Sea:
- Focus on fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains.
- Replace butter with healthy fats, like olive oil.
- Limit red meat.
- Use herbs to flavor food rather than salt.
- Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week.
7. Catch some zzz’s!
Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
8. Take care of your mental health!
Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
9. Buddy up!
Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.
10. Stump yourself!
Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.
For more information, call the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern Nevada at 1-800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org.