One of the most frequent questions people ask me as a cognitive and memory disorders specialist is – How do I prevent or minimize my risk for cognitive decline?
Researchers and labs across the world have been studying this question for decades. Although there is no silver bullet, you can do several things to optimize brain health over the course of your life.
And, since it’s the season for March Madness – that competitive tradition of basketball brackets and betting – we’re offering our “Top 5” tips for brain health.
- Exercise: High intensity and moderate intensity aerobic exercise is not just good for your heart. It is also good for your brain. It improves your mood and cardiac function, reduces stress, and makes you more mentally alert. So, when you are watching those basketball games, hopefully all the sports action motivates you to play some hoops or go for a fast-paced walk. Keeping to a work out over the course of your life (10-20 years) can help with your brain function.
- Diet: We all know athletes are on a set diet to optimize their physical health and performance. This works the same way for your brain. Eating healthy – lots of fruit, vegetables, healthy oils, fish and minimizing junk food and fatty meats – is critical for brain health. As with exercise, it is important to do this over the course of your life for the greatest prevention.
- Sleep: Poor sleep is the one of the biggest causes of reduced concentration and memory functioning. You know what it's like the next day when you've had a bad night’s sleep? Now, think about having reduced sleep for years - this is why we should all get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If you are having trouble, check out the Sleep Foundation’s website for strategies. If that doesn’t work, see a psychologist for 6-7 weekly sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia rather than chronically using a sleep aid.
- Relaxation and Stress Reduction: Athletes perform much better when they are relaxed and “in the zone.” This is because their mind is focused on the task at hand – shooting the ball in the basket. The same is the case for us! It is critical to engage in weekly stress reduction exercises to minimize stress and improve our overall sense of calm. If not, see a psychologist or therapist!
- Mental Activity: We all know that increased mental activity (e.g., reading, crossword puzzles, listening to music, socializing) helps to prevent cognitive decline as we age. So, don’t just zone out eating popcorn or chips when watching the big game. Instead, talk with your friends! This will increase your focus and overall mental activity when you are watching the game.