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?
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of dementia by keeping your brain healthy! Here are five tips to keep your brain healthy over the course of your life.
- Exercise. High-intensity and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise are 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. 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-paced aerobic activity like walking, dancing, cycling or swimming up to five times a week has been shown to have long-term positive cognitive impacts. Keeping to a workout over the course of your life (10-20 years) can help with your brain function.
- Diet. A balanced diet can optimize your 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. The Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, and MIND diet are all diets that have been studied with regard to their impact on cognition and healthy brain functioning.
- Sleep. Poor sleep is one of the biggest causes of reduced concentration and memory functioning. Do 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. It is critical to engage in weekly stress reduction exercises to minimize stress and improve our overall sense of calm. Scientists have studied the way that both intermittent and long-term stress impacts the brain. Stress can affect mood, memory and promote anxiety. It has even been linked to inflammation and chronic illness. Carve out time for relaxing and unplugging from technology. These eight stress reducers are all extremely inexpensive, if not free. If these aren’t solving your stress issues, an appointment a psychologist or therapist may be another option.
- 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 television or hanging out at home. Instead, talk with your friends and family! This will increase your focus and overall mental activity.
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