Maintain your brain health as you get older

Keep your brain fit for a better life.

The Healthy Brain Initiative, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), defines cognition, as a “combination of mental processes that includes the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language and remembering.”  When we start to have problems with our cognition, according to Michigan State University Extension, it can affect things that we do in everyday life. 

CDC also says that “cognitive impairment is not caused by any one disease or condition.  Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and conditions such as stroke and traumatic brain injury can cause cognitive impairment.”  Some kinds of cognitive impairment, due to issues like medication side effects, depression or vitamin B12 deficiency are reversible with proper medical care.

Dr. Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist, is the President of Brain Health Center, INC. and adjunct professor of Neurological Surgery for the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine.  He is sharing some newly researched ideas about the brain:

The human brain (like the animal brain) can generate new brain cells. This new brain cell development (neurogenesis) occurs in the hippocampus.

The human brain is now thought to have “neural plasticity” or be a system that is highly dynamic, constantly reorganizing and malleable. It is shaped by environmental input.

Our brains need exposure to environments that are enriched, complex and novel.

Environments that are passive and rote do not help the health of your brain.

Exposure to enriched environments across your lifespan will lead to new brain cell development and increased cellular connections, known as “Synaptic Density.” Synaptic Density, or Brain Reserve, may help to delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

What can we do as we grow older to maintain our brain health?  Dr. Nussbaum identifies five domains that need attention if we want to maintain our brain health as we get older.  He shares important tips to keep in mind.

Remain socially active

  • Do not isolate or segregate as you get older. People who isolate have a higher risk for dementia.
  • Join groups and social organizations in your community.
  • Maintain and build your friendship and family network.
  • Be forgiving and giving.
  • Develop hobbies.
  • Do not retire.
  • Ask about loneliness as it increases risk for dementia.
  • Surf the web.

Remain physically active

  • Walk between 7,000 and 12,000 steps daily. Walking several times a week reduces the risk of dementia.
  • Walk six miles a week.  
  • Buy yourself a pedometer to remind yourself to walk and to keep track of your daily steps.
  • Dance, as this is a behavior that reduces the risk of dementia.
  • Gardening and knitting reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Aerobic exercise will help the heart and feed the brain with the necessary blood and oxygen. It also promotes cognitive functioning such as memory and is now believed to relate to positive structural changes in the brain.
  • Use both sides of your body more often: Become ambidextrous.
  • Try Yoga, tai chi or qigong.

Remain mentally active

  • Learn a second and third language.
  • Read and write, using your nondominant hand, on a daily basis- the more complex the better.
  • Learn sign language as it increases IQ and increased IQ’s reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Play board games as board game playing reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Traveling reduces the risk of dementia because it involves a new and complex environment.
  • Play a musical instrument because it integrates and stimulates many different regions of the brain.
  • Listen to classic music as it helps to increase learning.
  • Visit  for a daily cognitive workout  
  • Problem solve.

Remain spiritually active

  • Whatever your faith, pray on a daily basis as it enhances your immune system.  
  • Attend a formal place of worship regularly as it relates to better quality of life and longevity.  
  • Learn to meditate in order to slow down. Animals exposed to environments that are too stimulating demonstrate slowed brain development.
  • Learn relaxation procedures with deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
  • Slow down and do not be afraid to say “no.”
  • Develop “me time” for 30 minutes daily.
  • Try Yoga, hot yoga, tai chi and qigong.

Maintain a healthy eating plan

  • Eat 80 percent of what you intend to eat at each meal.
  • Eat one meal a day with family or friends.
  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. This includes fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring. Several ounces of salmon weekly reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Walnuts and unsalted nuts are also good for you.
  • Eat 8 ounces of fish weekly.   
  • Increase your intake of antioxidants. Colored fruits including grapes, apples, cantaloupe and berries and vegetables are good for you. The FDA recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables a day including green leafy vegetables.
  • Decrease your intake of processed foods.

MSU Extension says that if you are concerned about cognitive impairment and dementia in you or a loved one, take it seriously and make an appointment with your doctor to have a thorough examination.  Much can be done to prevent or delay brain health challenges if recognized a head of time.  For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website

For more information about nutrition, weight loss, diabetes or other chronic conditions, as well as other issues of interest to families, visit MSU Extension.

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