05 Dec Five ways to reduce the risk of dementia – aging well through better brain health
People fear dementia* much more than physical disability as they age. The thought of our mental faculties failing us is deeply disturbing, but in many cases we can reduce the risk, and delay or slow the development, of cognitive impairment.
1. Be physically active
Moderate aerobic exercise at least four times a week – e.g. going for a brisk walk, swimming, dancing, gardening – helps to improve circulation, which brings more blood and oxygen to the brain. Nearly one quarter of the blood and oxygen from every beat of your heart is meant for your brain. You don’t have to go to extremes – just enough to increase your breathing and heart rate to a moderate level. Aerobic exercise also helps reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.
Always check health precautions ** before starting such activities, particularly if you have led a mostly sedentary life.
2 Eat a brain-healthy diet
What’s good for the heart is generally good for the brain, because this helps reduce the risk of vascular disease that can lead to cognitive decline. Your grocery list should include items from each of the following groups:
- Seafood – e.g. salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout
- Fortified Dairy, Eggs – e.g. milk, soy beverage, omega-3 eggs, yogourt
- Dark Vegetables e.g. Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, winter squash
- Fruits e.g. prunes, raisins, blueberries, plums, red grapes, cherries, strawberries
- Grains, Nuts e.g. bread, pasta, cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter, walnuts, flaxseed
Oils e.g. canola oil, flaxseed oil, margarine, walnut oil, olive oil
3. Remain socially engaged
We are social creatures, and engaging with other people helps to keep our brains active and healthy. Even introverts are healthier with regular connections to people they know. You might try:
- making friends and family a priority
- continuing to work if you want to and are able to
- volunteering for something that is meaningful to you
- joining a club or starting a new group
- participating with others in spiritual activities
- making friends with young people
- getting to know some neighbours.
4. Stay mentally active
Mentally stimulating activities strengthen brain cells, build connections between them, and may create new cells. You can so teach an old dog new tricks! How about:
- doing jigsaw puzzles (helps visualization, fine motor control, and concentration)
- learning to play a new instrument or operate new equipment
- memorizing songs or poems
- learning new dance steps (also good for aerobic exercise and social engagement)
- visiting a display or art gallery or museum and writing about it afterwards
- reading books and articles that make you think
- learning a new language
- doing things with your non-dominant hand (e.g. opening doors, brushing teeth)
- doing things in a different order (e.g. getting groceries, taking a different route)
- bouncing and catching a ball, playing catch, learning to juggle.
For your current activities, step up the difficulty, such as more complex knitting patterns, or more challenging crossword puzzles.
5. Avoid toxic substances
Reduce and eliminate smoking, drinking, and other drugs. They reduce motivation, diminish functioning, damage a range of cognitive processes, and impair thinking by reducing one’s focus, attention, memory, and ability to carry out plans.
There you have it – five things you can do to help reduce the risk of dementia, and delay the onset of cognitive impairment (Are My Memory Lapses a Sign of Impending Dementia?)
* Alzheimer’s Disease: Unraveling the Mystery – National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from http://www.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/alzheimers_disease_unraveling_the_mystery_0.pdf
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