Improving Your Brain Health by Shannon Lynch
The Alzheimer’s Association designates the summer solstice, this year on June 20, as The Longest Day, a day that encourages individuals to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s by shining a light on the disease. Fundraising activities on The Longest Day help create awareness of the disease and support research and other initiatives of the Alzheimer’s Association.
With The Longest Day approaching, this seems like a good opportunity to talk about brain health. Just like our bodies, our brains change as we age. The good news is that it’s never too late to boost your brain health to help you stay mentally sharp and stave off Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Although cognitive decline begins long before an individual begins to notice it, experts note that making certain lifestyle changes at any age can help keep our brains healthy and resilient.
As the old saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” Just as with the other muscles in our bodies, it’s crucial to exercise our brain muscles to keep the brain stimulated and healthy. And the sooner we begin doing so, the better chance we have of preventing cognitive decline.
Some of these lifestyle activities will be familiar, as they are the same ones that health care professionals encourage us to incorporate to keep our bodies nimble, strong and healthy: controlling high blood pressure, eating a diet low in fats and high in fruits and vegetables, and not smoking all help to sharpen our mind and boost our memory. Other brain healthy activities include:
- Challenge Your Brain: Try something that you’ve never done before like juggling, learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, learning to dance, writing your memoir.
Or do something you know how to do in a different way — like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, sitting at a different seat at the dinner table, or for driving to the grocery store at a different time or by a different route.
Another way to challenge your brain is to test your memory with an activity like drawing a map from memory, solving a couple of math problems in your head or memorizing a poem or a grocery list.
- Get Off the Couch: Exercise in any form, from walking to aerobics to yoga, has a positive effect on your mind and body, getting your heart pumping, keeping your joints lubricated, boosting your mood and decreasing stress.
- Be A Social Butterfly: Research shows that regular social interactions help individuals fight depression and reduce the risk of dementia. While face-to-face contact is limited during this time of COVID-19, we can still keep in touch with family and friends over the telephone, or via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom.
- Sleep Smart: We need a good night’s sleep for healthy brain function, and that means keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and cool for best results. And ditch your cellphone at bedtime; the blue light from the screen suppresses melatonin, the hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle.
- Stress Less: The physical realities of aging, along with the passing of friends and family members can heighten anxiety and cause depression. Stress-busting activities like yoga, meditation, walking and gardening help us decompress and keep things in perspective.
Learn more about The Longest Day and find more suggestions for maintaining brain health on the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org.
Shannon Lynch is the Executive Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care and respite care.
The Morrison Communities is a non-profit 501©(3) charitable community that has been providing quality healthcare to residents of New Hampshire’s North Country since 1903. For more information, go to www.themorrisoncommunities.org.