We've talked about four ways to reduce your risk of dementia – lifestyle choices that help keep your brain healthy and protected against the risk of cognitive and chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s. Today, let’s focus on two particular strategies: Stay connected and Get moving.
Both physical and social activities can help you control risk factors that can lead to dementia, such as depression, social isolation, and conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. With the pandemic leaving many of us feeling isolated and burnt out, these brain-boosting strategies have become more important than ever:
1. Get moving! Set reasonable goals to start
While physical activity is key to reducing risk, settling into a routine can be difficult. In getting started, you may face barriers to overcome, such as finding the right time and opportunities to be active. Start off small by adding just a bit of physical activity into your daily routine.
This small action may be choosing a brisk walk to the store, rather than driving the car, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator for one or two floors.
2. Stay connected! Maintain your friendships (and make new ones!)
Keeping in touch with your friends, family and co-workers will give you plenty of opportunities for social nourishment. Don’t be afraid to extend a few invitations of your own—maybe there’s someone who you want to get to know a little better, or check in on?
Even if your social interactions are a little more than saying “Hello” and “How are you doing?,” they can make all the difference for both your and their mental well-being.
3. Do both! Turn your physical activities into social activities
Is there a physical activity you would like to try out, but worry that it may be a little too challenging? Plan it with people you know and feel comfortable around. Some of the more demanding physical activities, like hiking or kayaking, are more fun (and safer) with friends.
That way, you are more likely to keep active while also gaining the brain-health benefits of social interaction and teamwork.
4. Get moving! Keep it simple
When it comes to physical activity, there’s no need to make things too difficult for yourself. When looking for things to do, try activities that work with you, not against you. That way, physical activity won't feel like a chore or task to tick off.
For example, if you have reduced mobility, try to engage in activities that will help you maintain your balance and prevent falls, like gentle yoga or tai chi.
5. Stay connected! Find digital activities you can enjoy with friends
What happens if you are still unable to see someone in-person? Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to make your social interactions feel more exciting, beyond talking on the phone or chatting via email or social media.
When you video chat with friends and family, suggest playing some online games, watching a movie or show together, or even visiting a virtual escape room!
6. Do both! Find your rhythm
Once you have a list of physical and social activities you want to do, the next step is making sure you can stay consistent. That’s why setting a schedule, even if it’s as simple as a reminder on your calendar, is vital.
What is the day of the week when you have the most free time? Try making that the day for your regular physical activity. Schedule a night, once or twice a month, to connect with a certain group of friends. Whatever pace you feel comfortable with, don’t try to overcomplicate—the easier you make your schedule of activities, the easier it will be to maintain and follow it.
7. Get moving! Try out aerobic activities
What type of physical activity is best for reducing the risk of dementia? The Alzheimer Society recommends aerobic activities that increase the heart rate temporarily, like swimming, jogging, cycling, or using a stationary bicycle.
Even walking the dog can be enough. Many experts recommend walking as one of the safest and most effective forms of aerobic exercise!
8. Stay connected! Get engaged with your community
Whether it's volunteering for a local cause or keeping in touch with your neighbours on your community page, you'll find that there are many health benefits to helping others around you. It can build self-esteem and confidence while expanding your network of social support.
A random act of kindness can make all the difference. It could be as small as holding the door open for someone—paying your happiness forward will not only brighten someone else's day, but yours as well!
9. Do both! Do what you want to do!
It can be a fun challenge to try something new, but don’t feel pressured to pursue activities that you don’t care for. Focus on what makes you happy by choosing physical and social activities that you enjoy and love.
If you find that you don’t enjoy something, don’t force yourself to continue. Remember, activities should feel fun!
10. Get in touch with your Alzheimer Society
Looking for more suggestions for physical and social activities? Check in with your closest Alzheimer Society. We can suggest other brain-healthy exercises that are right for you and your needs, and are tailored to your community.
This web article was originally published on September 15, 2021.
There are many ways to protect your brain from cognitive decline. Visit our section on brain health to learn more.