According to the Alzheimer’s Association, rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s are increasing. Last year, 5.4 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the country today. Fortunately, there are everyday habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to strengthen your brain power and fight back against a decline of your cognitive abilities.
A new study from the University of British Columbia in Canada suggests that walking could increase brain function in people with mild vascular dementia. People with this condition in the study who began walking frequently scored higher on cognitive tests and showed more efficient thinking ability. So, AARP suggests adding a one-hour walk three times a week to your routine.
A six-year study with 1,6000 participants found a link between Alzheimer’s disease and a vitamin D deficiency, according to the AARP article. So they recommend a diet “rich in vitamin D, which is critical for robust cognitive function.” Quality sources of this vitamin include milk, orange juice fortified with vitamin D, tuna and salmon. Other dietary advice includes consuming more leafy greens and reducing your intake of red meat. Another no-no: artificial sweeteners found in diet soda.
An article in Reader’s Digest lists eight habits that a neurologist swears are helpful; making time for friends is one of them. Older adults who enjoy frequent interactions with others showed a 70 percent lower decline in cognitive abilities over a period of 12 years when compared to those who had fewer interactions. Socializing can include “being part of a book club or a card game, having dinner dates with their friends, visiting family” or whatever else interests you.
The article also encourages older adults to make new friends and suggests that you throw a dinner party, since that causes your brain to make “complex social decisions” and practice “strategic planning.”
Challenge Your Brain
Older adults who frequently engage in stimulating activities were less likely to develop dementia than those who did so less often. So, challenging your brain to learn can contribute to brain health. Examples of activities that can encourage brain cell growth and connections among the cells include reading, playing a musical instrument, working on puzzles and playing board games. You should engage in these types of activities several times a week.
It’s possible that these activities enlarge the hippocampus, the area of the brain that processes memory. A study of London taxi drivers shows that they have larger-than-normal hippocampi, and experts theorize that’s because they must memorize names and locations of 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks.
The Reader’s Digest article suggests that you vary the topics you read about to fuel your cognitive reserve, something brain scientists believe serves as a buffer against dementia. Or learn how to paint, draw or sculpt. Older adults who do so are shown to have a 73 percent less chance to develop mild cognitive impairment, according to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic.
Finally, EverydayHealth.com offers this intriguing and offbeat suggestion to prevent cognitive decline. You feel great after a good night’s sleep, the article reasons, and vitamin D — the sunshine vitamin — may help to clear the brain of plaque buildup. So why not nap in the sun? (Our suggestion: Apply sunscreen first!)