For generations, avoiding dementia – or not – was a roll of the dice.
Essentially, you would get older and hope you kept most of your cognitive abilities in the process.
But no more. These days, researchers have learned that avoiding dementia is possible, and more importantly, relatively easy.
The key to avoiding dementia is to build on these three foundations:
- And brain exercises
Which is why we’ve created this ultimate guide to avoiding dementia – so you can learn more about each of these three pillars, and learn to work them into your daily life now, rather than wishing you had later.
Foundation One: The FOODS That Protect Your Brain
Researchers out of Rush University Medical Center have created the MIND diet, a diet specifically recognized as one that puts avoiding dementia in reach.
You can learn more about the MIND diet here. But until you have a chance to get on board with the MIND way of eating, these seven foods will get you started.
1. Beans and legumes. Legumes have so many minerals that are essential to brain health, it’s almost impossible to list them all. Ounce for ounce, beans are one of the best sources of folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium that you’re going to find. And they’re all critical to maintaining brain function at every level.
2. Berries, especially blueberries. Berries contain a specific antioxidant that’s particularly effective at protecting the brain from free radical damage, as well as reducing inflammation in the brain that can lead to chronic health problems.
3. Cruciferous vegetables. That’s the official name for broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and the like. What makes them important to avoiding dementia are the powerful antioxidants and B vitamins that cruciferous vegetables have in such high quantities. They are known to lower an amino acid that can inhibit cognitive function. The lower the amino acid, the better your brain works.
4. Leafy greens. Leafy greens are some of the most important foods when it comes to overall health, so it follows that they’re just as important when it comes to brain health. They’ve been shown to improve and protect cognitive function, and reduce feelings of depression. Avoiding dementia – just another reason to have a salad!
5. Omega 3 fatty acids. Fatty fish, avocado, flax seed, nuts, and olive oil are all excellent examples of high quality omega 3s. The long list of reasons omega 3 fatty acids are good for your brain can be summed up in one sentence: they can reduce the risk of dementia by more than 25%. That’s reason enough.
6. Pumpkin and other squash. It’s the vitamin A in pumpkin doing the work here, so if you’re not a fan of squash, look for any vegetables high in vitamin A, like asparagus, tomato, and carrot. Any of them will protect brain function, reasoning, and comprehension.
7. Turmeric. This exotic spice is becoming more common, thanks to its health benefits. It’s one of several spices that can help break up and reduce the brain plaque that impairs memory and cognitive function. Plus, turmeric can also help slow aging in the brain, so you’re less effected by time.
Foundation Two: The ACTIVITIES That Protect Your Brain
Avoiding dementia doesn’t start and stop in your kitchen. Activities, choices, and behaviors contribute to brain health, as well.
1. Regular exercise. All the ways exercise is good for your heart make it good for your brain, as well. Blood flow, oxygen, nutrients…it all plays a part in keeping you sharp. There are three types of exercise your brain needs:
- Aerobic exercise – aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. And feel free to do more if you’re up to it physically.
- Anaerobic exercise – or strength training. Try to get two to three strength training sessions in per week. This can mean lifting weights, or doing body weight exercises like push-ups and squats. Or, of course, a combination of both!
- Balance exercise – not only do balance exercises help keep your brain healthy, but they protect against falls which can cause head trauma. Work on balance throughout the week. It can be as organized as a yoga or tai chi class, or it can be as basic as standing on one foot while you do the dishes.
Combining these three types of exercise can reduce the risk of dementia by up to 50% - and may even help slow its onset if a loved one has already started showing signs of cognitive decline.
2. Stay social. Research indicates that people who are isolated lose cognitive ability faster than people who stay socially engaged. Make an effort to stay in touch with loved ones, get out of the house, and even make new friends. Find a club to join or volunteer your services at a local organization. Even just chatting with your neighbors and mail carrier can make a difference. Along those lines…
3. Have fun. Life becomes too serious too often, and that can take its toll on your brain. Be sure to prioritize fun the same way you do work. And the best part is you get to decide what’s fun for you. Just make sure you laugh, engage, and truly enjoy what you’re doing. It really is key to avoiding dementia.
4. Relax. The hormone that gets produced when life gets stressful is damaging to the brain. So it’s important to give your brain a break, which means it’s important to relax. Take a hot bath, go for a run, find a quiet spot to meditate, find someone to talk to about your concerns – whatever will reduce your stress levels, do it. It’s physical, not just emotional, and it’s vital to brain health.
Foundation Three: Exercises That Protect Your Brain
Just like physical exercise is important, so is brain exercise! Brain health is a use-it-or-lose-it quality, so be sure to use it, with these exercises.
1. Mental puzzles. The key is to work different parts of the brain, and each type of puzzle – crosswords, suduko, logic puzzles, even math problems – all work a different section. By doing a different type of puzzle every day or every week, you’ll keep all the different parts of your brain sharp.
2. Learn something new. Continuing your education is one of the best ways of avoiding dementia. IT keeps the neuron connections you’ve got in good shape and it helps creates new ones, too. Plus, learning helps maintain and improve memory. With so many online classes, you don’t even need to live near a college campus.
3. Listen to music. This really does count as brain exercise, and you’ll understand why. Music helps with:
- reducing the chronic stress that can cause physical changes to your brain
- enhancing brain elasticity
- increasing brain hormone levels that help strengthen cognitive ability
- boosting focus, concentration, and attention span
- improving mental productivity
- reducing mental decline and cognitive aging
All of that, just by turning on your favorite music.
4. Fine detail and eye-hand coordination activities. In spite of the name, this really is exercise, as far as your brain is concerned. Needlepoint, painting, sewing, building models – they all fall into this category. Doing any of them stimulates neurological function, but that’s not all. Fine detail work is also linked to better concentration, and lowered risk of dementia.
5. Learn a new language. Cognitive decline is caused, in part, when your brain actually shrinks as you age. Learning a new language can reverse that and even increase brain size. Which makes maintaining the connections within your brain easier, so you protect your thought processes and mental capacity longer.
When it comes to avoiding dementia, the days of simply hoping for the best are over. You’ve taken your overall health into your own hands.
Do the same with your brain health. And stay you for years to come.