Five Ways to Build a Healthier Brain
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are receiving more and more attention as our population ages and begins contracting more age-related diseases. The single biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is growing older. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, after age 65, the risk of developing the disease doubles every five years. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.
Fortunately, there are several things we can do to mitigate our chances of getting the disease. Here are some of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy brain.
Challenge your mind
The mind thrives on learning. Reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle or learning a new language all help stimulate the mind. The more challenging the endeavor, the more it helps build a strong brain. According to Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, “Anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, stimulating the mind with new challenges encourages brain cells to grow, which may stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s. Brain autopsies have shown that many people who have high levels of beta-amyloid plaques – an indicator of Alzheimer’s – never show any signs of the disease. Many scientists believe this may be largely due to regular exposure to new activities.
Exercise does more than help your body stay fit. It also helps your mind stay healthy. In one study of seniors, those who reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment due to any reason by 60 percent. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent.
Be conscious of what you eat
We all understand that eating nutritious foods is good for our health. This includes brain health. Be aware of what you’re eating and strive to eat more nutrient-dense foods. There are some specific nutrients that the brain is particularly fond of. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fat, so it’s important to get enough healthy fats in your diet. And that means loading up on your Omega-3 fatty acids. Food high in omega-3s include many fish, especially wild salmon, herring, and sardines. Other good sources of omega-3s include flaxseed (including flaxseed oil) and walnuts. Antioxidants, found in high concentrations in blueberries, red beans, green tea and red wine, are also important for brain health. Finally, the brain loves water. Dehydration can raise the level of stress hormones in the body.
Spend time with friends
As human beings, we are, by nature, social animals. Our ability to exchange ideas and share complex emotions has helped build civilizations and create amazing works of art. It’s also important to maintain brain health. In two separate studies, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Michigan discovered that people who engaged in a lot of social activity showed higher levels of cognitive performance and had slower rates of memory decline. In the Harvard study, socially active adults had less than half the rate of memory decline than those who were the least active.
Learn how to relax
Stress is an underlying cause for many diseases. In a Utah State University study, lead researcher Maria Norton, PhD discovered that people who experienced particularly stressful life events have significantly higher rates of dementia later in life. One of the best ways to cope with stress is mindful meditation. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied over 19,000 meditation studies and concluded that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain – all of which are risk factors for dementia. Another way to reduce stress? Laugh! Laughing has been shown to have numerous health benefits, one of which is to lower stress. Research at Loma Linda University discovered that a group who watched a funny video for 20 minutes scored better on short-term memory tests than a group that sat quietly for 20 minutes.