June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. As we grow older, we may notice ourselves getting more forgetful. We forget where we put the car keys, can’t quite find the words we want to say, or can’t recall someone’s name. These episodes can be scary – “Am I developing Alzheimer’s or some sort of dementia?” The good news is that the answer is probably no – it’s completely normal to have mild bouts of forgetfulness as we age. There are, however, many things we can do to keep our brains active and lively, and possibly decrease our chances of developing brain disease. Here are seven tips for you to consider:
Give your body a workout
Your brain is a part of your body – and your body is an integral part of keeping your brain healthy. Physical activity helps the brain grow new connections between neurons. Studies have shown that when seniors exercise 30 minutes 3 days per week, they significantly reduce their risk of cognitive impairment. And you don’t have to exercise in the gym if you don’t enjoy it – get some friends together for a walking club, go biking, work in your garden, or play ball with your grandkids. Work some active time into every day and you’ll be doing a lot to contribute to your brain health.
Give your brain a workout
Crossword puzzles, reading, learning new things – these are all ways to keep your brain active and high functioning. Take a class, learn a new skill such, travel. If you have issues with mobility, most community colleges offer a number of online courses, you can learn new languages online, or you could even take up computer programming! Everyone has something they’ve always wished they had time to learn, now might just be your time.
Plants and fish
A healthy brain needs a healthy diet. The brain loves healthy fats found in plant foods like avocados and olives. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many fish, such as salmon, as well as in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, and chia seeds. The brain also loves blueberries, red beans, green tea, and red wine, which all have high concentrations of antioxidants. You don’t have to swear off steak, but red meats should find their way onto your table occasionally, not every day, and most of your plate should be filled with nutritious veggies and fruits.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Our brains are 75% water, but as we age, we often drink less water than when we were younger. You may not appreciate the need for frequent bathroom breaks, but more and more studies are linking low-level dehydration with brain disease. So make sure you are drinking your 8×8 – eight 8 oz. glasses of water each day.
Find your tribe
Humans are social creatures, and socialization is important for maintaining brain health. Studies have shown that seniors with a high level of social engagement also have higher levels of cognitive performance and as much as a 50% decrease in rate of memory loss. There are so many ways for us to engage socially – through your house of worship, volunteer organizations, or even with a part-time job. Seeing family and friends frequently can also be excellent ways to engage.
De-stress your life
Research has shown that the underlying cause for many diseases is stress, and may even be linked to higher rates of dementia later in life. Often as we age, we seek ways to make peace with others, and to find meaning in our lives. Some people find answers, as well as important social engagement, in their faith communities. Others are drawn to volunteering or political activism to make a meaningful contribution. The Columbus area is full of opportunities for you. And for everyone, mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stressors such as anxiety, depression, and pain, which are major contributors to the development of dementia.
Easier said than done, but if you are following the tips above, you may well find yourself also losing weight. Exercise, good hydration (we often eat when we are actually thirsty), reducing stress (another food-consumption driver for many of us!), and embracing a more plant-based diet all help bring your body closer to its natural weight. This is important because studies have found that obese seniors have higher levels of certain proteins that can drive brain disease.
By improving your overall health and engaging with others in meaningful ways, you may be able to lessen your risk for brain disease or significantly slow its progression. Make this month the start of a healthier, happier you!