Brain health is today’s hottest health topic. While research gives us more and more answers about what we can do to safeguard our brain health and significantly lower our risk for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the average person has little idea what exactly they can do. Often I am asked what we can do to boost everyday memory and protect our long-term brain health. Here are the top 10 things everyone should absolutely know about brain health – and they might just surprise you!
1. Take a Walk. Many of us think about giving our brains a workout, but the kind of exercises we think of as “brain healthy” rarely involve working up a sweat. Yet getting off the couch and on your feet is absolutely the BEST thing you can do for your brain! Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise (the kind where you can keep up but can’t keep up a conversation) boosts our daily intellectual performance and significantly lowers our risk for dementia. Some studies have even suggested that regular exercise can reduce that risk by up to 38%. So if time is limited and you need a “best bets” tip for boosting brainpower, go bust some moves. How much exercise do you need? Studies suggest that even just walking at a vigorous pace at least 30 minutes a day 5-6 days a week will do the trick.
2. Lose that Spare Tire. While there is no “miracle diet” for your brain, what we eat definitely matters to our brain health. A brain healthy diet supports everyday memory, and can protect us from chronic medical conditions that increase our dementia risk. Also, studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight with a low ratio of “belly fat” can significantly lower our risk for a memory disorder, even beginning in middle age. No need to spend on a special supplement! Stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet, maintain an appropriate weight, and balance your synapse xt intake of alcohol and caffeine. Want to go that extra step? Try adding foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants to your diet. Some studies have suggested that they may lower dementia risk – even if they don’t, things such as fish and berries are still a better choice than that double bacon cheeseburger with fries!
3. Follow Your Doctor’s Orders. Staying on top of your medical care is key for addressing issues that affect memory. Managing chronic conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, can significantly reduce our risk for stroke and dementia. Also, taking care of medical issues such as hearing or vision loss can make a tremendous difference in our ability to learn new information, such as a name. Have a cold? It might be making it harder for you to keep track of your errands. Finally, find out if your medications may be making it harder for you to remember. Talk with your doctor about your concerns, and see if any adjustments can be made if necessary.
4. Get Your Zzzzz’s. Lifestyle choices we make daily, such as how much sleep we get, how stressed we feel, to what risks we take (such as whether we use a helmet when we ride a bike or ski) impact our daily memory performance and brain health. Emotional distress – anxiety, feeling blue – also can lower our everyday ability. It may even increase our risk for memory impairment. Want to live better for your brain? Lead a brain healthy lifestyle. Get a good night’s sleep, avoid risky behaviors, and don’t ignore emotional upsets. A leading study on successful aging found that folks who aged well were more emotionally resilient. In other words, they didn’t let their feelings fester. Great advice to be mindful of!
5. Play PacMan. As we grow older, we can experience changes in our everyday intellectual skills. Those changes commonly affect our ability to stay focused, think quickly, multitask, and learn new information (after all, learning new things such as a name require the previous three skills!). Want to stay sharp no matter what your age? Play games against the clock. Research shows that training in these skills can help stay more effective at them, no matter what our age. Timed activities force us to pay attention, work fast, and think nimbly – you can’t beat the clock without doing so! And the great news is that there are so many great brain games we can play, from board games to electronic games to computer-based, brain fitness specific training games (which have no unique scientific benefit, but can boost your stick-to-it-tiveness by acting as a personal trainer for your brain).