Make healthy lifestyle choices
Our ability to maintain life-long brain health is very much influenced by the choices we make in our daily lives. Research has found that next to aging, the most influential factors in determining one's susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease are lifestyle and environmental factors. Avoid environmental toxins, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse.
Be physically active
People who exercise regularly are less likely to develop heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which are all associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Physical activity also pumps blood to the brain, which nourishes the cells with nutrients and oxygen, and may even encourage new cells. As well, regular exercise helps to reduce stress and improve your mood.
Just as physical activity improves your body's ability to function, studies show that keeping your brain active can help reduce your risk of dementia. By approaching daily routines in new ways, you engage new or rarely-used mental pathways.
Challenging your mind doesn't have to be difficult. It can be as simple as dialing a phone number with your less dominant hand or as complex as learning a new language. Remember, the goal is to give your brain a new experience and a workout every day.
Be socially active
Staying connected socially helps you stay connected mentally. Research shows that regularly interacting with others may help lessen your risk of developing dementia. Social activity also helps people with dementia to continue to engage and feel fulfilled, improving their quality of life. Maintain old friendships and make new ones. Stay social through work, volunteer activities, travel, hobbies, family and friends. Be open to new experiences.
Follow a healthy diet
Healthy eating can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia. Healthy dietary choices will not only improve your general health, but it also helps to maintain brain function and slows memory decline. When it comes to food and brain health, set reasonable goals and be patient. By following basic healthy eating guidelines, your brain fitness has the potential to improve.
Tips for eating healthy
- Eat high fibre breads, cereals and grains and low-fat animal proteins. Include foods rich in omega-3 oils such as cold-water fish (e.g. trout, salmon) and walnuts.
- Add flavour to dishes by adding herbs, spices, nuts and olives. You don't have to give up flavour to follow a healthy diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight by choosing appropriate portion sizes, eating healthy snacks, and drinking plenty of water.
- Plan meals in advance so that you don't leave healthy eating to chance.
- Enjoy a variety of foods in many different colours.
- Blue and purple fruits and vegetables tend to be packed with anti-oxidants. Blackberries, blueberries, purple cabbage and plums are all great food choices.
- Go green every day with fruits and vegetables that are good for your brain and also benefit bones, teeth and vision. Green options include avocados, broccoli, celery, cucumbers, peas, spinach, pears, honeydew melon and many more.
- Choose white, tan and brown fruits and vegetables such as bananas, cauliflower, potatoes, turnips, onions and garlic.
- Add orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, cantaloupe, butternut squash, peaches, papaya, oranges, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers and lemons to your plate.
- Reach for reds every day. Beets, raspberries, red grapes, radishes, tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon, rhubarb, pomegranates and cherries are just a few excellent red choices.
Experiencing some stress is part of everyday life, but when it persists over time, it can cause vascular changes and chemical imbalances that are damaging to the brain and other cells in your body. By managing or lowering your stress, you can improve your brain health and reduce your risk of dementia.
Tips to reduce stress:
- Take personal time for yourself. Exercise, relaxation, entertainment, hobbies and socializing are essential parts of our health and well-being. Everyone needs to find a balance that limits stress and helps maintain optimal health.
- Identify unrealistic expectations and try to accept what cannot be changed.
- Seek and accept support.
- Be prepared – new or unfamiliar situations can create stress and anxiety.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Reduce the harmful effects of stress on your mind and body through meditation, deep breathing, massage or physical exercise. The key is to explore a variety of techniques and find those that work for you.
Protect your head
Although young people tend to suffer more head traumas, we are all at risk for head injuries. It is important to protect your head, at any age, for lifelong brain health. Past head traumas, especially repeated concussions, appear to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.