Often we can take our brain for granted, not realising the actions we take, or don’t take, can have an impact on the short or long term health of our brain. Today I’ll outline 8 ways to support our brain health. These simple daily actions are also linked to reducing our risk of dementia. It’s good to know that if we keep our brain healthy, we are also helping in the fight against dementia.
I”m talking about brain health today because this week we are celebrating the brain during Brain Awareness Week. Brain Awareness Week (BAW) was introduced in 1995 by the Dana Foundation to recognise the advances and benefits of brain research.
Steps to a healthy brain
Dementia and brain research has identified the following ways that you can keep your brain healthy:
Maintaining regular sleep hours each night, and a good dose of sleep on a regular basis are important for building your memory banks and retaining what you have been learning, but also for reducing stress and avoiding depression. While the amount of sleep each person needs is different, everyone does need good quality sleep. This includes regular sleep and waking times when feasible, and a bed routine which involves reducing screen time before bed, and limiting caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to sleeping.
Staying hydrated and reducing the toxins in your body is an important aspect of brain health. Water is a contributor to this aspect of brain health. Drinking waters also helps to improve your concentration and cognition, and to balance your mood and emotions. Finally it helps reduce stress, increase blood flow, and prevent or relieve headaches. Drinking water regularly throughout the day will maintain hydration (drinking sugar drinks or caffeine does not substitute for water).
Stop smoking and reduce alcohol consumption
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. Excessive alcohol consumption also impacts the health of the brain. Both of these are risk factors for cognitive impairment later in life. The impact on brain health is greater if individuals smoke and drink (a common combination). Eliminating smoking, and reducing or eliminating alcohol will improve oxygen flow to the brain.
A well balanced diet which includes fruit and vegetables, and an appropriate consumption of healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrates based on your needs will support brain health, and reduce your risk of brain impacting diseases like stroke, dementia or diabetes.
While exercise is very helpful for your overall general well-being, it is also specifically very good for your brain health. Aerobic exercise appears to enhance memory and learning. Doing a minimum of 30 minutes a day of activity which gets your heart pumping is a reasonable place to start (see your Doctor before starting an activity program if you are very unfit).
Self-Efficacy and Community involvement
Taking the opportunity to be involved in your community will help maintain your thinking skills and ability to make decisions. It will also help you to feel involved and connected, which wards off depression and feelings of isolation. Volunteering and/or being socially involved (both helpful for brain health) are ways to stay connected, and to stay healthy.
Stress has been linked to anxiety, depression and some potential memory problems. You can reduce stress by exercising, staying organised and participating in some calming activities like meditation or breathing exercises. Reducing stress is good for your brain.
Education and Information
A healthy brain is a working brain. Keeping your brain active by learning new things is an important aspect of brain health.
It is also important that you are aware of your own health, and that you maintain up to date information on your health issues. Therefore, stay in touch with your health professionals, be aware of recent information about any health conditions you have, and ensure that you take all your own medications according to the directions. Looking after your own health by being consistent, informed and compliant with your health care team will lead to long term better health outcomes for your brain.
Dementia Risk Reduction
There are currently 47 million people living with dementia worldwide, which is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030.
Brain function is affected when a person has dementia. While there is no cure for dementia, there are ways to reduce your risk of dementia. Though it doesn’t ensure that you will prevent dementia in your case, taking care of your brain is a key step in reducing your risk of dementia. Taking steps to reduce your risk of dementia will also help to reduce the future numbers of people with dementia. And there is the immediate potential benefit of a healthier life for you right now.