June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a time to show support for the millions of people worldwide who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related conditions. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.5 million people age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the leading cause of disability and poor health.
This June, we’re taking a closer look at some actions to take to protect our brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Follow these five tips to promote better brain health at any age.
Break a sweat
Many aspects of living an overall healthy lifestyle are believed to boost brain health and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, regular physical exercise increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain, which is essential for healthy brain functioning. Just 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise each day can reduce the risk of developing dementia. Regular exercise is also a beneficial strategy for preventing conditions that may be linked to Alzheimer’s or dementia, including cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, and stroke. Low-impact activities such as walking, yoga, pilates, dancing, or swimming are perfect for older adults, and many senior living communities offer group fitness classes and paved walking trails to make it easier for seniors to exercise each day.
Challenge your brain
Just as your body needs exercise to stay physically fit, so does your brain! Although more research is needed to confirm the association between staying mentally active and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, some studies have found that exercising the brain offers positive health benefits, especially for older adults. Challenge your mind with interesting activities such as learning a new language, playing cards or board games, doing crossword or number puzzles, reading, writing, crafting, or taking continuing education classes. Learning different things and stimulating your brain each day is not only fun, but it can also help you keep your mind sharp well into your retirement years.
Protect your head
Emerging research suggests there is a strong link between developing Alzheimer’s disease and serious brain trauma, especially when a head injury involves loss of consciousness. Even mild traumatic brain injury, known as a concussion, can have lasting effects that may lead to the symptoms of dementia. Take steps to prevent brain trauma by always wearing a seatbelt and using a helmet when playing sports or riding a bike. For older adults, falling is the most common and severe risk of traumatic brain injury. You can “fall-proof” your home or the home of a loved one by repairing or removing fall hazards such as area rugs or loose flooring and consider installing safety rails in bathrooms for additional support.
Maintain strong social connections
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research indicates that maintaining positive social bonds and staying socially active as we age can lower our risk of cognitive decline. This is because social stimulation strengthens the connections between nerve cells in the brain and keeps our minds active and engaged over time. For this reason, senior living communities offer plenty of activities for residents to choose from each day, including classes, clubs, and social events. While it can be difficult for older adults to maintain close friendships when they’re living alone, moving to a senior living community provides endless opportunities to make new friends and create meaningful, long-lasting connections.
Keep your heart healthy
New studies on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients suggest there is a significant correlation between brain health and heart health. Factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke can damage blood vessels, which in turn limit the amount of oxygen-rich blood supplied to the brain. For example, a form of dementia called vascular dementia can occur after a person experiences a series of small, “silent strokes,” or mini-strokes. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to lead a more heart-healthy lifestyle and protect both your heart and your brain. In addition to exercising, try to eat a heart-healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as seafood. You should also work with your doctor to control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to prevent cardiovascular issues and improve your overall health.