I recently attended a conference focusing on retirement and longevity planning. One of the speakers, Dr. Marc Milstein, gave a talk focused on how we can keep our brains healthy and free of disease. It was fascinating, and I thought I’d share his insights on how we can impact our brain health:
1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
Sleep is a superpower. It’s best to keep it on a schedule, getting to bed, and waking up at the same time every day. Sleep also likes a blacked-out room, and please don’t read on your phone before bed. The blue light emitted from phones pushes back the release of sleep-inducing melatonin by 45 minutes in adults. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause memory loss ten years before that of the general population.
2. Challenge Yourself.
Your brain wants to stretch itself, and one of the best ways is by learning a new skill – and why not make it something you enjoy? Pick up a paintbrush or guitar, sign up for a Duo-Lingo account and learn Spanish, or take samba lessons. Whatever rocks your boat.
3. Treat Hearing Loss.
Recent studies have linked moderate to severe hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia due to changes in the “hearing” section of the brain. Don’t hesitate to see a specialist if you need to.
4. Be Socially Engaged.
People need people, and your brain does too. It likes to be social and interact, and the more, the better as we get older. The party animals in communities tend to show the slowest rate of memory decline. Good news for the shy or introverted- pets can also reduce stress, boost immunity, and keep us moving and engaging.
5. Manage Stress and Be Mindful.
The brain likes certain types of stress, like the types associated with learning something new or taking on a challenging project. But, it doesn’t like chronic stress – the kind where you are worried or anxious all the time. Fortunately, mindfulness and meditation practices can reduce the risk of dementia. It can be as simple as taking breathing breaks – focusing on the breath for a few minutes several times a day.
6. Keep Chronic Inflammation At Bay.
Inflammation is an integral part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection and facilitates the healing process. But chronic inflammation is a whole other story and can contribute to the development of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. A healthy diet, proper dental care (regular flossing), and exercise can help. Talk to your doctor about the CRP blood test, which tests levels of inflammation in the body.
7. Eat Whole Foods and Avoid Processed Foods.
Beware of foods that don’t spoil, like the highly processed foods in the grocery store and as Michael Pollan says, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And a glass of wine a day won’t hurt you.
8. Exercise, even moderately.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your brain is walking at least 30 minutes a day. Anything more than that will also give you muscle-tone and a better-looking body. Just do it.
9. Treat Diabetes.
Untreated type 2 diabetes can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, so work with your healthcare providers to manage this all too common disease.
10. Take Care Of Your Heart.
Some say a healthy heart equals a healthy brain. Keep both healthy by eating right, exercising, being mindful to lower stress, not smoking, and drinking moderately.
What better time to incorporate these habits into your life than at the dawn of a New Year?
Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!