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Are You Taking Care of Your Brain Health?

By Cindy Boatman November 19, 2022 Health and Fitness

Various polls of seniors rank the fear of receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis right under the fear of being diagnosed with cancer. For some, the fear of Alzheimer’s is equal to or greater than that of a cancer diagnosis. Understandable, since to date there is no cure for the disease.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in the US. That makes it the perfect time to review the latest information on what we can do to love our brains. Women especially, since the World Health Organization reports globally that dementia has a disproportionate impact on women, accounting for 65% of total deaths.

Maria Shriver lost her father, Robert “Sargent” Shriver to Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. She is instrumental in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Maria founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM), whose mission includes discovering why Alzheimer’s seems to discriminate against women.

Does Dementia Hit Close to Home?

To have or have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease or another disease under the dementia umbrella is heart breaking. Many of you can relate, as can I, since my mom suffered with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. They diagnosed Mom around age 60, although she lived to age 73.

I have such a vivid recollection of my mother’s state of memory loss when my father unexpectedly died the day before her 64th birthday. The effects of the disease were significant by that time. The event created a benchmark or point of reference from which I judge my memory status as I age.

At age 61, my brain function is within a normal range, at least most days! I admit I may forget or misplace something, or be unable to find the word I’m searching for, both of which create instant anxiety! Of course, the anxiety compounds the problem, but it also motivates me to do whatever I can to protect my cognitive status.  

What Can We Do to Help Protect Our Brain Health?

Scientific data suggest dementia develops many years before symptoms appear. So, it is an advantage to adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle sooner rather than later. To take care of our brain in our 60s and beyond may also be impactful. At a minimum, it can improve our quality of life and general health.

Based on the latest research, it turns out heart-healthy is equivalent to brain-healthy. No big surprise, since what’s good for the heart is good for the rest of the body. What can we do to help create a buffer between us and dementia?

6 Reported Pillars of Brain Health

Content provided at AARP’s Staying Sharp (through guidance from the Global Council on Brain Health) and other sources suggests that incorporating the following lifestyle elements may promote and protect brain health.

Be Social

Connect with friends, volunteer, and maintain family ties.

Engage Your Brain

Feed your curiosity, learn new things, and expose yourself to new situations.

Manage Stress

Learn to decompress, meditate, and move.

Ongoing Exercise

150 minutes of weekly, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is the recommendation with two or more days a week of moderate-intensity strength (resistance) training; incorporate a physical lifestyle into your daily routine (park further from the door and walk, take the stairs); exercise in ways you enjoy, such as tennis or golf.

Restorative Sleep

Try to get between 7 and 8 hours of total sleep each night, with an emphasis on restorative sleep. Improve sleep hygiene by keeping a consistent sleep schedule and a dark, quiet bedroom at a cooler temperature.

Put away phones and turn off screens an hour or more before bedtime and adopt a quiet activity like reading. Eat only small meals or snacks in the evening, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine several hours before bedtime.

Eat Right

Eat healthy foods that include whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, beans, nuts, and olive oil. Avoid foods (or consume in moderation) such as red meats, butter, margarine, cheese, fast/high processed foods, sweets, and high-sodium foods. Consider following a Mediterranean or the MIND diet.

Also, I’m a fan of Andrew Huberman, PhD, an associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University. In the video below, Dr. Huberman discusses science-based behavior tools that may help improve your brain and nervous system function. Warning: He uses lots of technical terms, but this is good information and worth the view. As a bonus, he’s easy on the eyes!

To change your lifestyle at any age can be difficult. If you feel a bit overwhelmed, you might start by incorporating one or two new brain-healthy habits at a time. Once mastered, pick up one or a few more and repeat. After all, learning new things is good for your brain!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you worry about getting dementia? How likely are you to change your lifestyle to help improve your brain health?

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The Author

Cindy Boatman is excited to share her research and personal insights, hoping to help others live their best lives as they age. She is retired, pursing her dream to write, enjoying nature, travel, and her grandkids. She completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training certification program in 2020.

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