The Dos and Don’ts of Brain Health

Dos and Don'ts of Brain Health

Post date: 1/13/2020

Brain health is constantly in the news – for good reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a number that is estimated to triple to 14 million by the year 2060. Navigating what is good and bad for your brain health can be tricky, especially given how much advice exists from so many different sources. This article will serve to outline what you should and shouldn’t do to help promote your brain health and reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.


While these tips can apply to anyone at any age, it especially matters once you’ve entered retirement age. The CDC states that symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease tend to appear beginning around 60 years old, increasing as we age. Normal aging is associated with structural changes to the gray and white matter of the brain – meaning, there is a natural progression to brain deterioration that happens to almost everyone. However, diseases like Alzheimer’s – which is characterized by progressive memory loss, impaired thinking, disorientation and changes in personality and mood – are on the severe end of the brain degeneration spectrum and are theorized to be caused by certain lifestyle and risk factors. Making lifestyle changes now, no matter your age, can potentially prevent or reverse certain brain processes that may lead to Alzheimer’s.


What are some things I can do to help my brain health?

Taking steps toward preserving, protecting and improving your brain health can be as easy as changing one small habit, including incorporating the following tips:


1.      Exercise

Maintaining an active lifestyle is vital in preventing cognitive decline. Participating in activities such as light aerobics, dance, tai chi or even a simple walk around your neighborhood can contribute toward reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Not only does light exercise improve your circulation, which brings oxygen to your brain, but some researchers state it can even increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain responsible for memory that normally shrinks with age.


2.      Puzzles and games

It can be fun to keep your mind sharp! Things like puzzles, brain game apps, Sudoku and crossword puzzles or word searches can result in improved memory, visual recognition, concentration and mood. Try to incorporate a puzzle of some sort into your daily routine to boost your brain health.


3.      Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet and ensuring you’re getting your vitamins can make a significant difference in reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Deficiencies in vitamins like folate and Vitamin B12 have been linked to cognitive decline, and some scientists theorize that these vitamins serve as a protective mechanism against dementia. You can get folate from foods like broccoli, asparagus, spinach, beets and Brussels sprouts. Vitamin B12 can be supplemented with dissolvable tablets, sprays or obtained from food sources like beef, eggs, fortified cereals or seaweed snacks.


4.      Get enough sleep

Sleeping enough allows your brain the time it needs to repair, restore and reset after the many activities it does during the day. Sleeping also allows your brain to get rid of toxins, such as beta-amyloids, which is a substance that is linked to the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Most experts recommend older adults try to aim for eight hours of sleep per night. You can prioritize your sleep by following good sleep hygiene habits like going to sleep and waking up at the same time each night, avoiding caffeine and exercise at least six hours before bed and developing pre-sleep rituals you follow every night, like taking a bath or reading a book.


5.      Prioritize seeing your friends and family

Keeping in touch with friends and family can do more for your health than you might realize. One study found that certain social activities significantly reduced the rate of cognitive decline in a sample size of adults aged 65 and up. They found that the people who experienced the smallest amount of cognitive decline had the following things in common:

  • Active members of social clubs with their peers
  • Frequently contacted their children and grandchildren by phone, letters or in-person
  • Participated in two or more social activities, such as church groups, alumni societies or volunteer councils


6.      Practice mindfulness and meditation

Practicing a daily meditation routine can do many things for the brain, including decreasing inflammation, fighting fatigue and confusion, reducing rates of depression and promoting the formation of neural connections within the brain. A meditation routine can be as simple as a daily 15-minute practice during which you focus on taking deep and controlled breaths. There are also many tutorials available online.


What are some things I should avoid to help my brain health?

There are also some things you can change or omit entirely from your lifestyle to help improve your cognitive function. Stopping or limiting the following activities can help your brain health:


1.      Drinking in excess

It might come as a bit of a surprise, but drinking in excess for many years can actually affect your brain just as much as it can affect your other organs, like your liver or stomach. Because alcohol is technically a toxin, regular consumption can actually kill your nerve cells. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to brain shrinkage, depletion of the gray matter and permanent chemical changes to the brain.


2.      Smoking

Not only does smoking increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and many kinds of cancer, it can also cause many other issues. Regardless of how long someone has smoked, quitting at any age can provide huge benefits toward their health.


3.      Being inactive

While regular exercise five times a week is the most beneficial for your brain and overall health, participating in light activities a few times a week is better than being completely inactive. Not only can inactivity cause weight gain, muscle loss and osteoporosis, but it can also contribute toward the development of depression and dementia. If you have a chronic illness or physical impairment which restricts your movement, ask your doctor for recommendations on exercises that work well with your body. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy or rehabilitation depending on your individual situation.


How to get a leg up on your cognitive health

Following these steps to improve and protect your brain health can be as easy as finding local classes and opportunities in your community. Sun Health Wellness offers classes offered at little-to-no-cost. These classes range from informative wellness classes to exercise groups, all of which can benefit your mind and your body.