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6 Everyday Habits for Better Brain Health

6 Everyday Habits for Better Brain Health

 

June 2014 is the first-ever Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, an ideal time for all of us to take stock of whether our daily routines are enhancing or degrading the health of the all-important organ sitting between our ears.

While nothing can prevent or cure Alzheimer’s, adhering to these six habits can lead to better overall brain health:

Healthy body, healthy brain: Diabetes, heart disease—even poor gum health– have all been shown to increase a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Conversely, individuals who exercise on a regular basis, consume diets that are rich in fruit, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, and engage in proper mouth hygiene practices often experience a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s in their later years.

Good sleep hygiene: A recent study from the University of California, San Francisco found that older men who didn’t get enough high-quality sleep—woke up multiple times during the night, couldn’t fall back asleep, etc.—experienced cognitive issues equivalent to the effect of an additional five years of brain aging. Fitful sleepers had greater trouble planning, making decisions and were more likely to encounter issues with abstract thinking. Check out these 7 Yoga Poses that Can Help You Sleep.

Build a buffer against dementia: Cognitive reserve describes the mechanism by which a person’s mind helps compensate for damage to their brain. The term has recently become a buzzword among health care professionals because research indicates that people who have larger amounts of cognitive reserve are less likely to exhibit the classic signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia—short term memory loss, difficulty multitasking, etc.—even if their brain scans show mental damage. This is because cognitive reserve effectively makes the mind stronger and more nimble, enabling it to come up with ways to compensate for disease-related loss of functioning.

Fancy training programs not required: Building a cognitive reserve buffer doesn’t require a bunch of fancy mental puzzles and exercises—though such activities can help. Rather, the key to constructing cognitive reserve lies in seeking out novel activities and experiences in your everyday life. For example, Shlomo Breznitz, Ph.D., co-author ofMaximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom, says even simple tasks—using your non-dominant hand while eating, taking an alternate route to work—can strengthen your cognitive reserve. Discover six additional Ways to Boost Brainpower.

Stress management is essential: Studies have shown that individuals who experience high levels of stress in middle age have a greater risk of developing dementia, even decades later. Cortisol and other hormones released during the stress response can contribute to brain inflammation and can damage the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for memory formation.

The benefits of social support: Maintaining strong social connections with friends and family throughout life is widely-regarded as an ideal buffer against a host of ailments—both physical and mental. Indeed, new research has even outlined the Deadly Consequences of Loneliness.

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

AgingCare.com connects family caregivers and provides support, resources, expert advice and senior housing options for people caring for their elderly parents. AgingCare.com is a trusted resource that visitors rely on every day to find inspiration, make informed decisions, and ease the stress of caregiving.

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Leesa A. Wheeler

Leesa A. Wheeler
Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Artisan, Author
 

9 Easy Ways to Boost Brain Power

9 Easy Ways to Boost Brain Power

Forget almost everything you have been taught over the years about the aging human brain. Almost 70 years ago, a scientist declared that the aging brain diminished in memory, agility, and functionality while increasing in senility. Without much challenge, this theory was accepted for decades and taught as fact.

In reality, more recent studies have shown that the aging brain can continue to function actively and effectively if we recognize its needs for nutrition, challenge, reducing stress, exercise and more. “Use it or lose it,” say authors Alan D. Bragdon and David Gamon, Ph.D., in their book by the same title.

Many of today’s older adults have also been influenced by the long-time assumptions that the brain, mind and memory of an older person is a failing process. Therefore, they turn their daily lives to endless viewing of television, unhealthy eating, and increased complaining while also increasing personal stress. They abandon dreams and direction for the future.

1. Focus on nutrition: Proper nutrition is vital, particularly a diet strong in antioxidants. Fresh fruits and vegetables are vital to provide what other parts of the body or system may now be denying to the brain and its function. Other physical challenges are probably reducing the effectiveness of the immune system; therefore, the addition of all the more antioxidants can definitely benefit the brain and its function. Interestingly, most research endorses coffee and its caffeine ingredient as a benefit to better brain function. And caffeinated teas may be of similar benefit.

2. Games, fun and solutions: Play games that call for thinking and evaluating before action. Playing cards with others can stimulate brain function while also providing sociable times with family members and friends. Puzzles, including crosswords, picture puzzles and word puzzles are great brain stimulants.

3. Involve your kids: Ask them to work on and complete a puzzle or game with you every day, or every week. When such is accomplished, congratulate your child for being a great teammate. Again, social interaction boosts the benefit of doing fun puzzles.

4. Start a diary: Start a daily diary, and even buy a quality book or binder plus a special pen to start. Share in the diary what you have accomplished over the years. The diary could also include “things or projects I want to do,” so to define many positive events and projects for the future. When you start sharing about tomorrow, a lot of stress and depression can start to disappear.

5. Stop smoking: Of course, this will be a challenge. But there are no benefits, but only negative effects to the brain from smoking. Smoking also contributes to diseases, including COPD.

6. Invite visitors over: Loneliness is a real downer for some adults, particularly if they withdraw from social events or relationships. Invite visitors to spend time with you, whether on a one-time or weekly basis.

7. Start walking: Physical exercise and movement is vital to the functioning of the adult brain and its best functioning. Daily walking, even several times around the block, is something that almost anyone can do. If you have current challenges in walking, perhaps 30 minutes each day, then in-home exercises, as simple as standing on one leg for 12 to 20 seconds and shifting to the other leg, may be appropriate and effective. The exercise produces aerobic benefits to the brain as well as the lungs, heart and general physical condition.

8. Keep laughing: There’s something to be said for the old saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” The act of laughing has been proven to have health benefits. If you are isolated a lot, movies and books can provide entertainment. Both Netflix.com and blockbuster.com enable you to order movies online and they will be delivered directly to the home – no need to run out to the video store.

9. Get out of the house: At least once each week, go somewhere. It may to a restaurant or bistro for a meal, a visit to a fair, entertainment or special event in your region or, even something as simple as lunch. This continues to open the world to you, while ensuring that you are still part of it.

By Leonard J. Hansen, AgingCare.com

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