senior women exercising

Lifestyle Choices to Improve Brain Health

senior women exercising
There’s no cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s and related dementias, but the good news is that there’s a growing body of evidence that the right lifestyle choices can have a positive impact on overall brain health. This means that a person has the power to reduce and control their risks.

Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, Executive Director of the Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center, collaborated with fellow members of the AARP Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) to develop the following lifestyle areas of importance, and to provide recommendations to enhance brain health.

  1. SLEEP

Sleep is vital to the aging brain. Unhealthy sleep patterns can negatively affect attention, memory and executive functioning. To maximize your sleep:

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep in 24 hours
  • Exercise – regular physical activity promotes good sleep
  • Get up at the same time every day to develop a regular sleep-wake schedule
  • Limit use of the bedroom for sleep only
  • Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature
  • Expose yourself to light during the daytime
  • Identify and treat existing sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) before they cause permanent disruption in sleep patterns

Feeling socially connected and that you have a purpose in life enhances your brain health. Keeping and building relationships over your lifetime keeps your thinking sharp. To become more socially connected:

  • Join a community-related group
  • Get a pet
  • Teach someone a new skill
  • Volunteer or help others
  • Use technology to stay connected with others
  • Share a smile!

An active lifestyle and regular exercise helps your mind stay fit. Some suggestions include:

  • Move more throughout the day – take the stairs!
  • Make concrete plans to exercise or move your body daily
  • Add a regular exercise routine into your schedule – 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week plus muscle strengthening exercises at least 2x a week

Eating right is essential for both heart health and brain health. For optimal nutrition:

  • Seek out green leafy vegetables and berries
  • Eat more fish and less red meat
  • Cook with olive oil instead of butter, and eat almonds and other nuts for healthy fats
  • Drink more water, not soda or beverages with added sugars
  • Watch the size – eat nutritious foods in proper portion sizes
  • Rinse canned foods to remove excess salt and sugar
  • Add lemon, spices and herbs instead of salt
  • Cooking at home results in better diet quality

Education and learning are known to enhance cognitive function, making you less susceptible to the effects of age or disease-related brain changes. Here’s what you can do:

  • Can you finish the Sunday New York Times crossword? Complete mind-teaser games and puzzles
  • Engage in active adult programs and educational activities
  • Engage in the teaching or learning of a new task

Greater optimism, positive attitude, life satisfaction and purpose in life were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. To improve your mental well-being:

  • Make time in your day to laugh, learn and be grateful
  • Find moments to disconnect, breathe deeply and declutter your life
  • Seek out group activities and opportunities to exercise in nature
  • Eat healthy foods and cut back on alcohol
  • Build friendships and purpose-filled relationships in your community through volunteer or faith-based groups
  • Seek professional help when appropriate

Help for Memory Concerns
The Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center offers free, confidential assessments to evaluate your memory and cognition. Information from the memory assessment is preliminary and educational, not diagnostic. Results should be shared with a person’s primary care doctor since they provide additional information to inform clinical decision making. Relevant research opportunities are also shared with the individual, if interested.

To schedule a free memory screening at the Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center, call (843) 724-2302. To find a Roper St. Francis doctor you are comfortable talking with about memory concerns, call (843) 402-CARE (2273).

By Jacobo Mintzer, MD, MBA

Resources: AARP Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) – Lifestyle Choices and Brain Health.

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