Keeping your brain healthy as you age

Staying healthy as you age by exercising, eating right and reducing stress can keep your brain healthy too!

In an effort to understand and prevent things like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, neuroscientist have begun to find many strategies that can help to keep or increase brain health. It is more than the passing fad of ‘brain builders’ websites, word puzzles or classical music, which have been scientifically proven not to work.

What scientist do know now is that many things can negatively affect brain health, in particular the areas of memory, learning and cognition (thinking). For example, diets high in fats and sugars contribute to the formation of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The release of stress hormones in response to chronic stress can actually damage parts of the brain (hippocampus) which help to process memory, learning and emotion. Blood sugar levels (or glucose) affect the brain by overwhelming the body and impairing the flow of necessary nutrients to the brain and an even injure brain cells.

Things you can do to help your brain stay healthy as you age
  • Get moving – If you are normally sedentary, add more physical activity to your day such as light house cleaning, raking leaves, stand up and stretch during commercial breaks. If you are somewhat active add some planned physical exercise to your day. Find a friend to go for a daily ‘mall’ walk, join a water aerobics class, or turn on the music and dance. Speeding up your heartbeat, speeds up the amount of oxygenated blood flowing to your brain. Think of it as brain food. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any physical exercise routine.
  • Eat healthier - Whether you are a diabetic, have high blood pressure or other chronic conditions, or not, eating a healthy diet is your best all-around strategy to maintaining a healthy body and brain. Eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water and cut down on fatty, high sugar foods. Avoid excess use of sugary soda and alcohol. Remember, scientist now know that what is bad for your body is also bad for your brain.
  • Learn to deal with stress – There are many ways to deal with stress. Sometimes we use not so healthy ways of dealing with stress such as overeating, drinking alcohol, smoking, withdrawing by sleeping too much. Learn some healthy ways to deal with stress. Learn Yoga by taking a class, watching a video online or get a book from the library. Explore the practice of mindfulness. Michigan State University Extension has classes that teach some basic mindfulness techniques such as mindful breathing and moving. Develop a sense of humor and try not to take yourself or life so seriously. Go watch a comedy and laugh your way to health. Laughing is a fun way to get oxygenated blood to your brain!
  • Stay socially active – Social isolation can put you at risk for mental decline. Connecting with family and friends can help you maintain and gain healthy brain cell connections. Make an effort to get involved in your community and meet new people. Volunteering is a good way to use your talents and skills and gives you an opportunity to meet different people in different situations.

If you find yourself feeling confused or forgetful, have a conversation with your healthcare provider. Early detection of brain problems are critical to finding the best solutions for the optimal brain health. Some medications that help you stay healthy can sometimes cause problems in your brain. Make an appointment to go over all the medications you take – the ones you are prescribed and the ones you buy over the counter (like Aspirin, antacids, allergy medicine). Bring a list with you. It may also help to bring a family member with you for support.

Make a plan to build your brain, by building healthier habits. Get moving, eat healthier, deal with stress in a healthy way, socialize and talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about the best way to proceed. Don’t let life be a drain on your brain. 

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