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7 Proactive Steps to Support Brain Health
Because the brain ages along with the rest of the body, it’s common to occasionally have trouble finding the right word or remembering where you put your keys. Still, significant cognitive decline isn’t a normal part of aging. You can take proactive steps daily to promote brain health at any age.
Brain health has several aspects, including:
- Cognitive skills, such as learning, problem solving, remembering, and thinking
- Sensory integration, or making sense of information gathered through the senses
- Social-emotional well-being, including building relationships and managing emotions
Start your journey to improve or maintain your brain health with these seven steps.
1. Choose Foods that Support Brain Health
People need to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. For older adults, following a Mediterranean diet and limiting salt, saturated fats, and sugar has brain health benefits. This type of diet may help prevent or slow cognitive decline. It can also help you manage chronic health conditions and maintain a healthy weight.
A Mediterranean diet focuses on high-fiber foods and healthy fats including:
- A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, such as berries and leafy greens
- Beans, lentils, and peas
- Fish and other types of seafood
- Low or no-salt fresh herbs and spices
- Olive oil
You can also eat small amounts of chicken or lean meat on a Mediterranean diet. However, much of the meal should be plant-based.
2. Learn Something New
If you’ve always wanted to learn how to cook, play an instrument, or speak a second language, now is a great time to do it. By learning something new, you can keep your mind active, maintain brain function, and prevent cognitive decline. Your brain will also benefit from participating in hobbies, such as making crafts, playing regular chess games, or visiting museums.
3. Monitor Your Blood Pressure
Brain health and heart health are directly connected. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can damage the brain over time and increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Hypertension may also lead to a stroke, which prevents enough oxygen from reaching the brain.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, managing your blood pressure can help improve your brain health and lower your risk of a stroke.
There are many steps you can take to maintain a healthy blood pressure, including:
- Avoiding or quitting smoking
- Checking your blood pressure regularly
- Learning new ways to manage stress
- Making healthy lifestyle choices
- Managing other chronic health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes
- Taking all medication as prescribed
4. Spend Time with Loved Ones
Loneliness and social isolation are common problems later in life. People who experience these things have a greater risk of developing dementia and other cognitive issues. Being socially isolated or feeling lonely can also lead to increased anxiety, depression, and poor overall health.
Older adults who frequently spend time with others experience several benefits, such as:
- A feeling of purpose and meaning in life
- Better ability to cope with challenging situations
- Decreased risk of dementia, depression, and stroke
- Improved cognition
- Increased happiness
There are many ways you can connect with others, including:
- Attending religious services
- Caring for a pet
- Hosting a weekly potluck with friends or family
- Participating in a book club or hiking group
- Scheduling video chats with loved ones who live far away
- Teaching or taking a class
- Traveling with a tour group
5. Move Your Body to Boost Your Brain Health
Regular physical activity strengthens your brain and physical health. Exercise can also increase your energy level and help you sleep better. Older adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week, or about 22 minutes daily.
If it’s been a while since you exercised, start slowly, and take time to warm up and cool down. The most important step is to get started. Even small increases in physical activity add up over time. If you have chronic pain or other barriers to exercise, talk with your healthcare provider to learn ways to safely and effectively increase your activity level.
6. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is essential for brain health. A lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can cause cognitive decline and mental and physical health issues. Older adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep nightly. However, many have trouble getting or staying asleep. A consistent bedtime routine may help.
To set yourself up for success:
- Avoid caffeine for three to four hours before bedtime
- Go to bed and get up at the same time daily
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
- Participate in daily exercise at least three hours before bedtime
- Turn off all screens before you get into bed
If you have a consistent bedtime routine but still find falling or staying asleep challenging, ask your doctor for recommendations.
7. Talk with Your Doctor About Brain Health
Building a strong, ongoing relationship with your doctor can help you prevent or manage chronic health conditions. Regularly talking with your doctor lets you get to know each other and develop trust. When you trust your doctor, you’re more likely to ask questions and get the answers and care you need to live your best life.
Let your doctor know about any changes in your cognition, hearing, mental health, physical health, or vision. Tell them if any health conditions run in your family, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia
- Heart disease
While having a family member with a particular condition doesn’t mean you’ll develop it, telling your doctor about your family history can help them be mindful of potential signs and symptoms.
Even if you feel well, an annual exam allows your provider to learn what’s normal for you. This consultation can help your provider identify changes or issues as early as possible, order tests such as an MRI to determine any underlying causes, and get you the treatment you need.
Be proactive about your brain health. Make an appointment with a Carson
Tahoe Health provider today.