The 13 best ways to keep your brain young and healthy
As we age (and as our parents age), our brain changes and so do our mental functions. Memory decline is common, and it’s a fear that almost all of us have – both for ourselves and our loved ones.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to reduce the chances of age-related memory loss. Here are the top 13 ways to prolong long term brain health.
Fortunately, as you’ll see, many of these tips will help prevent the onset of many other diseases. And, it’s never too late or too early to get into these good habits. They will help you whether you are 3 or 103.
1. Increase mental stimulation
Research has shown that as we engage in more mental activities, our brain continues to create and strengthen connections. Doctors believe that this may even help the brain generate new cells and prevent future cell loss.
So rather than watch TV, spend some time reading, doing crossword puzzles or jigsaw puzzles, playing scrabble, or playing card and board games. Also, consider activities that also leverage manual dexterity and creativity such as drawing, painting, knitting or other crafty projects.
2. Improve your diet
Yes, eating well impacts your brain, as well as the rest of your body. Here are some tips for foods that are good for your brain health:
- Don’t over eat; rather keep your calories in check. (For most of us, that will usually mean a lower caloric intake).
- Eat healthy foods. Reduce consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol as well as trans-fatty acids and partially hydrogenated oils. Staying away from fast foods and many packaged foods and snacks will help.
- Make sure to have B vitamins, especially folic acid, B6 and B12. These help with cellular growth and regeneration. Fortified cereals, most grains and broccoli, asparagus and other leafy green vegetables are great sources of B vitamins.
- Mediterranean diet: According to an article from Harvard, a Mediterranean diet (which is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, moderate in olive oil and unsaturated fats, cheese, yogurt, and wine, and low in red meat) has been shown to the reduce the risk of dementia and prevent cardiac issues.
Of course eating well can also help you lower weight which will feel great and help fight against other diseases. It can even improve your mental health.
3. Get physical exercise
Using your muscles can also help your brain. It allows more oxygen to flow to your brain and it accelerates the development of new nerve cells, as well as the connection between the cells. This helps your mental acuity, regardless of age. Regular aerobic exercise seems to be best.
Exercise also lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol, and it helps reduce your chances of diabetes. And, of course exercise reduces stress and improves your heart‘s strength …and all of these will help your brain (as well as the rest of your body).
So, find some exercises that you enjoy and can do on a regular basis, even if it’s as simple as walking or going for a swim (which is low impact for your joints).
I don’t know about you, but I often find that while I’m exercising, or after I’ve exercised, I get some of my best ideas. And, I feel great!
4. Lower your blood pressure
High blood pressure is never a good thing. But, once you reach mid–life, high blood pressure can also take its toll on cognitive functions. So stay lean, reduce stress, eat well and exercise regularly.
5. Improve/lower your blood sugar
Diabetes is a risk factor for dementia and other age related diseases. The best way to fight diabetes is to eat right, exercise regularly and stay lean (do you see a pattern?). If your blood sugar stays high, definitely see a doctor as you may need medication to regulate your blood sugar and prevent further issues.
6. Avoid smoking
Yes, as we all learn now at a very early age, smoking is bad for you …and in many ways, including brain health. So, avoid smoking as well as secondhand smoke.
7. Improve your cholesterol
High levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type of cholesterol) increase the risk of dementia. Also, low levels of HDL (the “good” type of cholesterol) can also increase the likelihood of dementia. A good diet, exercise and good weight control can help (and so can medication if that’s what your doctor prescribes).
8. Avoid alcohol abuse/Drink in moderation
Yes, large amounts of alcohol can kill brain cells. So, if you choose to drink, drink responsibly and limit yourself to two drinks a day. Interestingly enough, many studies have shown that using low doses of alcohol, especially wine, may actually reduce the risk of dementia in older adults. Most likely this is because in small doses, alcohol can relax people and reduce stress (and lower stress is good for your health).
9. Reduce your stress
When you are less anxious and less stressed, you tend to think more clearly. Plus, life is just more pleasant when you’re relaxed.
10. Build social interactions
Social interactions with friends and family can lower blood pressure and lead to longer life expectancies. It also helps with mental capacity as well. So, get out there and socialize (or encourage your aging parents to do so). This is another reason why having a home healthcare aide can help, as that person can provide social and mental stimulation.
11. Protect your head/avoid falls
This one may surprise you, but severe head injuries, even ones early in life, can increase the risks of dementia and other cognitive impairments when you’re older. Concussions increase the risk by a factor of 10–fold. This can be a larger risk factor for some involved in sports with head related injuries (e.g. boxing, football, etc.) or motorcycle injuries. As an older adult, we’d recommend that you do your best to avoid slips and falls.
12. Perform simple daily breathing exercises
Daily breathing exercises can really help reduce stress, and at the same time, they can help with brain functionality. Dr Weil shares 3 daily breathing exercises you can do for brain health and relaxation. My favorite it the 4-7-8 technique. This exercise is quick and simple and can be done almost anywhere.
It’s ideal to sit with your back straight. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue.
- Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 7 counts.
- Completely exhale through your mouth so that you make a whooshing sound for 8 counts.
This is one set. Now repeat the set 3 more times (so you do 4 sets all together).
Many people will do this for 4 seconds, 7 seconds, then 8 seconds. But, don’t worry if you can’t hold your breath that long. It’s the ratio of 4:7:8 that’s important, so feel free to speed up the exercise so it’s comfortable. Over time, you will work your way up. You may want to try this at the beginning of the day and the end of day (and/or any time you notice that you’re excessively stressed).
13. Get a good night’s sleep
Do not underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Not only will you be happier and more alert, but you’ll be able to think more clearly. When people don’t get enough sleep, they often get more stressed, eat more and put on more weight. This in turn can lead to a whole slew of other problems and risk factors for your brain and heart. So, make sure you are sleeping well.
Make sure you go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up at a regular time. Make sure you have a comfortable sleeping environment (comfortable bed/pillow, comfortable temperature (not too high, not too cool), low light, low noise, etc.). It’s amazing how much good sleeping habits can improve your health and mental state.
So those are our top 13 tips for long term brain health. It’s never too early or too late to start these great habits. Your brain and your body will thank you for them. And, remember to use these tips for you other family members – your spouse, your parents, your kids – and your friends. These healthy habits will help your brain, your body…and your spirit.
Let us know if you have any questions or if we can help you in any way. Feel free to reach out to us at (212) 307-7107.
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13 Tips for long term brain health