Dementia and loss of brain power are not a normal part of aging. Many studies show that it’s possible to decrease the risk of dementia as we age. AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Things to Do After 50 for a Healthier Brain” says that data on reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of Dementia is continuing to be complied. Let’s look at seven habits that can boost your brain health in your 50s and beyond.
- Keep your blood pressure under control. Things that promote heart health also promote brain health. However, heart and brain health are linked not only by lifestyle factors but also by genetics, cholesterol metabolism and the health and integrity of the cardiovascular system. Blood pressure management can be achieved with a well-balanced diet, exercise and medication.
- Exercise regularly. In addition to increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise — particularly running — can be great for brain health. That’s because it generates the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF promotes the growth of the cells that send and receive signals from the brain (neurons). BDNF also increases the connections between neurons, and sustains them in the face of environmental and other challenges.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. This is a regimen that monitors cholesterol and promotes normal insulin activity. Both can decrease the risk of dementia. A Mediterranean-style diet is recommended. It’s full of vegetables, fish and heart-healthy fats. The MIND diet also combines the Mediterranean diet with the American Heart Association’s DASH diet. It is rich in neuroprotective foods (nuts, berries, green leafy vegetables, fish and olive oil).
- Watch your weight. Obesity is a well-established risk factor for dementia. Neurons, like all cells, use glucose for their energy source. However, they are unable to take it up without normal insulin function. Excess body weight (especially in the belly), not exercising, smoking and short sleep make it more difficult for insulin to move into cells. This results in insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. People with that condition have roughly a 60% increased risk of developing dementia. Losing weight is the best way to prevent, or even reverse, insulin resistance.
- Learn new things. Brains are meant to be active. Try things like crossword puzzles and sudoku for brain exercises, but make sure they’re challenging.
- Get good sleep. Chronic short sleep — particularly in midlife — can damage the brain. Lack of sleep interferes with the brain’s nightly cleaning cycle, since in deep sleep, neurons produce less beta amyloid and tau (proteins at the heart of Alzheimer’s) and secrete more of them as waste. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a temporary cessation of breath, followed by gasping, is a common problem. It’s been linked to cognitive impairment and structural changes in the brain. It is also linked to obesity, increasing age and poor muscle tone. These are some excellent reasons to lose weight and exercise.
- Manage your stress. Stress isn’t just a state of mind—but a state of body. Stress exerts powerful physical changes in the brain and has direct adverse effects on health, including blood sugar, blood pressure and abdominal obesity. It’s also a very serious disruptor of sleep.
Reference: AARP (May 18, 2021) “7 Things to Do After 50 for a Healthier Brain”