12 steps you can take to keep a healthy brain and body
1. Exercise. There are dozens of studies that show aerobic exercise helps build new neurons and connections in the brain. A 2012 study in Neuroscientist found that exercise is associated with “greater hippocampai volumes” and “reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s dementia.”
2. Eat fish and take Omega-3 supplements. Much has been made of a “review” by the Cochrane Library that found people taking omega-3 supplements did no better on tests of thinking and verbal skills than those taking placebo. However, people who eat diets higher in omega-3 have lower blood levels of beta amyloid and they have bigger brain volumes.
A UCLA study published in Neurology found a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids causes the brain to age faster, putting a person at risk for memory loss.
3. Learn to meditate. Among the many proven benefits of mediation is an increase in “neuroplasticity,” the rate at which the cells and neurons in your brain make new connections. This helps keeps you brain healthy and keeps it from shrinking.
4. Engage yourself in the complex and novel. Learning new information and skills across your entire lifespan helps to keep your brain strong even in the later years of life. Activities that have the highest value for brain health are those that are novel and complex to each particular person. What is easy for one person may be challenging for another, so the things that challenge you the most have the most value for your brain.
5. Think positive. Changing the way you look at certain situations, taking stock of the positive things in your life and learning to live with gratitude can improve your ability to manage stress and build brain resilience.
6. Practice good oral hygiene. You teeth can be a major source of inflammation which can cause damage in the brain, heart and other parts of your body. There is evidence linking inflammation caused by gum disease to increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Floss and brush at least twice a day and get your teeth cleaned at least one every six months.
7. Protect your head. Moderate-to-severe head trauma can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by two-to-four times. Protect your head and avoid activities that pose a high risk of brain injury, like texting while driving which has been found to increase the chance of a car crash by 23 times. Five major studies have shown that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent.
8. Switch your fats. While total fat intake isn’t necessarily related to cognitive health, recent studies have found people who consume higher levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fats and less amounts of saturated fat are at a lower risk for cognitive decline. This means consuming more fish and plant products while eating less red meat and dairy. And yes, use olive oil for cooking and in salads.
9. Reduce or eliminate smoking and drinking. People who are heavy smokers in their midlife years are more than twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s two decades later. Drinking can result in a loss of neurons which causes memory problems, confusion and sometimes even amnesia. A Swedish study identified heavy drinking by teens as the most serious risk factor for young onset dementia.
10. Throw a party. Just being around other people, especially those who make you feel engaged and stimulated, will lower you dementia risk. One recent study found the most social seniors had a 70% reduction in the rate of cognitive decline, compared to their least social peers.
Watch the drinking though!
11. Change you patterns. When doing routine things, your brain runs on autopilot. Novelty literally fires up brain plasticity and creates new neural pathways. If you are right-handed, try brushing your teeth with your left hand.
12. Get your Sleep. Lack of sleep could be one of the main causes of mental decline. There are proven connections between sleep apnea and dementia and some scientist suspect lack of sleep may be one of the main causes of brain disease. So make sure you are getting enough sleep. Take naps.