8 Tips for a Healthy Brain
You are only as young as you feel.
But, if you are over age 30 and often forget where you put your car keys, your brain is beginning to show signs of aging. An occasional forgetful moment isn’t the same as diagnosed dementia. But brain aging is something to be aware of.
Dementia is diagnosed as a group of symptoms that affect cognitive tasks, including memory. It is a syndrome not a disease.
Dementia often begins with simple, often mild, episodes of forgetfulness. As we age, dementia progresses as more brain cells become damaged and the brain loses more cognitive function.
Alzheimer’s Disease, which falls under the category of dementia syndrome, is a progressive form of dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association March 2016 report finds that there are 5.4 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease. An estimated 200,000 of those suffering are under age 65.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a debilitating disease for those living with it, but it is also fatal. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is the only cause of death among the top ten causes in America that can’t be prevented, or cured.
However, there are steps you can take now to slow down the body’s natural decrease in cognitive ability. Staying active, specifically with yoga and meditation, is just one way to keep your brain as young and healthy as you feel.
1. Keep Your Body Moving to Keep Your Brain Working
A 2016 study reported by the UCLA Newsroom and published in the May 10 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that a yoga and meditation practice helped minimize cognitive decline that could precede Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia.
Half of the studies participants joined in a Kundalini yoga and meditation practice while the other half performed memory exercises and memory training.
At the end of the 12 weeks, both groups had improvements in their verbal memory skills. However, the yoga and meditation group also had improvements in visual–spatial memory skills, which are responsible for recalling locations and navigating while driving.
The yoga and meditation group also had better results in reducing chronic depression and anxiety, two factors commonly diagnosed in those who are losing cognitive ability.
2. Eat Brain Healthy Foods
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends following either the Mediterranean Diet (mostly plant-based foods, replacing butter with healthy fat such as olive oil, eating fish at least twice per week) or the Mediterranean – DASH (Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH is higher in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium and lower in sodium. The U.S. government 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends both diets for Americans.
Whether you follow a specific diet plan or not, most nutritionists recommend limiting red meat, lowering sodium intake and increasing fiber. Some studies also suggest one glass of red wine per night can lead to better overall health as well.
3. Show Your Heart Some Love
Improving both your blood pressure and your cholesterol numbers will make your heart healthier and, in turn, lead to better brain health as well.
High blood pressure in midlife, whether from stress, dietary factors or hereditary, leads to decreased cognitive ability. Lifestyle choices can be one way to lower blood pressure. These include reducing stress, increasing your physical activity, and quitting smoking.
Cholesterol also affects your heart health and your brain health. High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol both increase the risk of dementia. Again, lifestyle choices can affect cholesterol levels in the body, specifically diet and exercise.
It’s important to see a doctor for regular physical check ups and take any prescribed medicine regularly for both blood pressure and cholesterol.
4. Stop Smoking. Now.
Whether smoking a cigarette or chewing tobacco, nicotine travels through the body in the bloodstream and heads straight for the brain, arriving in 7 to 15 seconds.
Smoking harms the heart when adrenaline is released, causing damage to the heart, arteries and lungs. However, smoking damages the brain as well.
Nicotine disrupts normal neurotransmitter activity, causing chemical changes and addiction to nicotine. Other neurological symptoms caused by nicotine include light-headedness, sleep disturbances, dizziness, and tremors.
5. Add Some B & D to Your Day
Adding in three B vitamins; B6, B12 and Folic Acid can help lower your homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid in the body. Studies have linked high levels to an increased risk of dementia. Fortified cereal, other grains, and leafy green vegetables are also good sources of B vitamins.
Two European studies reported in Scientific American found that lower vitamin D levels led to greater cognitive impairment. Although your body produces vitamin D, how much you produce is based on skin color, where you live and how much non-clothed skin is exposed to regular sunlight. Experts recommend 1,000 – 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D, or the equivalent of 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure three times per week.
6. Protect Your Noggin
Moderate to severe head injuries early in life increase the risk of cognitive impairment in old age. Concussions increase the risk for dementia tenfold.
Although there is nothing to do for head trauma or concussion that happened in your younger years, you can start now to pay extra attention to your head. Staying active is great, but be smart. Always wear a helmet when biking, horseback riding or riding ATVs. Wear your seatbelt in the car. If you have a slip and fall and hit your head, even if you feel fine, always get yourself to a doctor to check for concussion.
7. Go Back to School
You don’t have to enroll for another degree. But continuing education in any stage of life keeps your brain alert and working. Local colleges offer low-cost classes to non-students in a range of subjects. Ask your local community college about continuing education classes for a hobby you enjoy. Communities centers and online courses are also great resources to learn more about your favorite topic.
8. Find a Friend
Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, which has been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline. Volunteering in your local community, participating in social activities, and staying active in church are simple ways to keep a strong social support network. Another great way to meet people is to join an exercise class. So get yourself to your local studio or fitness center and try a yoga class.
More on Brain Research from YogaUOnline and B Grace Bullock, PhD. - Yoga and Meditation Can Change Your Brain New Study Suggests.
Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT 200 is passionate about writing, yoga, traveling, public speaking and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time, however, is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she loves every minute of the craziness and is grateful for all she’s learned along the way. Her first book "Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga and My Mom" is now available on Amazon. She has had her essays featured on Yahoo! and Dr. Oz The Good Life. She is a regular writer for Elephant Journal Magazine, YourTango and YogaUOnline. See more from Jennifer at jenniferwilliamsfields.com