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7 Activities that are Good for Your Brain

In a recent study and many others like it, researchers show that individuals who practice healthy lifestyle behaviors can significantly reduce their risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, as well as reducing their likelihood of developing many other chronic conditions. In this 2013 published study, more than two thousand men aged 45-59 years of age took part. Over a 30-year period, researchers measured the men’s participation in five healthy lifestyle choices which included no smoking, taking part in regular physical activity, maintaining an optimal weight, eating a high fruit and vegetable diet and having a low to moderate alcohol intake. Participants who embraced at least four of these five behaviors reduced their risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia by more than 50%.

Some mental decline is inevitable as we age. In fact, it is one of the most feared effects of aging. But significant cognitive impairment doesn’t have to be a part of your future. In this post, we’ll look at things you can do and choices you can make every single day to keep your brain in tiptop shape and sharpen your mental prowess.

1. Give Your Brain a Workout

Brain training activities have been shown to stimulate new neural connections in the brain, while also helping to increase the generation of new brain cells. Both of these functions are important to brain health because they increase brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to modify its connections or re-wire itself) and develop a functional reserve, providing a hedge against any future brain cell loss.

Just as your skin sloughs off skin cells and constantly renews itself, your brain does the same. The key to retaining these newly developed brain cells, however, is to integrate them into the brain by giving them a job to do. Cognitive stimulation (brain training) is important in the integration of the new cells and the preservation of newly developing brain cells.

The Rush Institute’s Memory and Aging Project reported that individuals who participate in mentally challenging activities have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and a reduced decline in global cognition. Any mentally stimulating activity will help your brain. The key is to keep the activity stimulating. Once an activity becomes easy, it’s time to find something else to give your brain a workout.

Examples of things you can do to give your brain a workout include:

  • Take a course to learn something new
  • Learn a new language
  • Do puzzles and word games. Crosswords, Sudoku and Kakuro are all excellent choices.
  • Spend time drawing, coloring and painting
  • Learn to play a musical instrument
  • Increase your vocabulary. A rich vocabulary is linked to a reduced risk for cognitive decline. Researchers at the University of Santiago de Compostela concluded that a higher level of vocabulary can improve your brain’s “cognitive reserve” – the brain’s capacity to compensate for its loss of function.
  • Take up a new hobby that involves fine-motor skills. Painting, drawing, knitting and assembling a puzzle all require hand-eye coordination and are a great workout for your brain.

Studies show that learning new and complex things over long periods of time (such as the time it takes to learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument) is a wonderful way to provide exercise to an aging brain.

2. Give Your Body a Workout

Physical exercise is good for your brain. Physical exercise gets your blood pumping which in turn sends blood coursing through your brain, delivering nutrients and removing waste. Physical exercise stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance thinking, learning and mood.

Physical exercise stimulates the development of new brain cells, increases the connections between cells, lowers blood pressure, helps keep blood sugars balanced, improves cholesterol levels and reduces stress. All these things are important to brain health.

Exercise doesn’t have to be mundane and boring. Here are some fun things you can do to stay fit that will also get your heart pumping:

  • Dancing (it also improves gait and balance)
  • Walk with a friend
  • Play golf
  • Do tai chi or yoga
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Gardening
  • Window shopping

Make changes to incorporate more exercise into your daily life. When exercising, try to keep your heart rate in the target zone to get the most benefit.

3. Improve Your Diet

Make brain- and heart-healthy diet choices. There are many studies associated with diet and dementia such as Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function and Dementia, MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging and Midlife Healthy-Diet Index and Late-Life Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. All point to the fact that adherence to a balanced diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats/oils and low-fat proteins (especially fish) is associated with slower cognitive decline and a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Even making dietary improvements later in life can be beneficial to the brain.

4. Socialize Frequently

Robert Wilson with The Rush Institute in Chicago published a report that said loneliness doubles a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. He further stated that socialization is associated with a lowered risk of cognitive decline, loneliness and depression. According to Science Daily, social isolation and loneliness are a bigger threat to your health than obesity – having twice the impact on early death. Feelings of loneliness are linked to poor cognition, increased cognitive decline and place an individual at risk of developing dementia.

Social isolation and loneliness can have a devastating impact on the lives of older adults. Loneliness and social isolation typically occur in small stages, so you may not even realize it’s happening. Then one day you find yourself sad and depressed and you don’t know why. Therefore, try to do things with others. Share your feelings. Make a deep and lasting connection with someone else. It will benefit you both.

5. Improve Your Numbers

It’s important to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check for your brain health.

High blood pressure in midlife can lead to increased risk of cognitive decline later in life. Keep your blood pressure as low as possible by:

Keeping your cholesterol levels balanced and in check is important for heart and brain health. High levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) have been associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. You can improve your cholesterol levels by:

If you cannot maintain your cholesterol levels through these measures, your doctor may need to prescribe a medication to help you.

Maintaining blood sugar levels is also important for brain health. Not only does it affect your ability to process information at present, but it can also lead to serious problems in the future. In fact, diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia. You can control blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes by:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

If you cannot maintain your blood sugar levels through these measures, talk to your doctor and they may need to prescribe a supplement that will help you.

6. Don’t Use Tobacco Products

Avoid tobacco in any form. Recent research indicates a strong relationship between smoking and dementia. Even second-hand smoke exposes the brain to toxic conditions that can cause problems. In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) now estimates that smoking may be responsible for as much as 14% of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

Fortunately, evidence also indicates that risk can be minimized by kicking the habit.

7. Don’t Abuse Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for the development of dementia. The is true for several reasons:

  • As alcohol is broken down in the body, it produces substances (acetaldehyde) that are toxic to the brain
  • Heavy drinking can lead to a thiamine deficiency which can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder most often caused by alcohol abuse
  • Head injuries increase because of falls due to the over-consumption of alcohol
  • The risk of vascular dementia increases because of the effects of alcohol on the vascular system
  • Alcohol increases blood pressure

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Memory Care Support in Fredericksburg, TX

As you read through the things you can do to improve your cognitive health, hopefully, you’ve chosen a few brain healthy modifications to implement into your daily routines. Small changes are easier to make and maintain in the long run. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth with your other hand or driving home along a route different from your typical can challenge your brain to think in ways it hasn’t had to before.

Still struggling with what you can do to help with the memory-related issues in your life? No problem. We’re here to help. The Villages of Windcrest offers specialized memory care programming, personalized to create lives filled with moment after moment of joy. Residents here are family and enjoy a special sense of community at The Villages of Windcrest. Contact us today to learn more.