For generations, the odds of getting dementia -- or hopefully, avoiding it – pretty much came down to luck.
Essentially, you would get older and hope that most of your cognitive abilities remained intact.
But no more. These days, researchers have learned that avoiding dementia is possible, and more importantly, relatively easy.
The three keys to avoiding dementia include these three pillars:
● Brain exercises
If you want to keep dementia away, make these guidelines part of your daily life NOW, rather than wishing you’d done it sooner.
Pillar One: Brain-Boosting Foods
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center have created the MIND diet, a program specifically recognized for helping people avoid dementia.
You can learn more about the MIND diet here.
But while you’re getting on board with the MIND way of eating, try incorporating these seven foods into your diet now.
Arielle: The MIND diet link referenced above directs to the article that follows this one.
1. Leafy greens. Leafy greens are vital to overall health, so it makes sense 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 -- another good reason to have a salad!
2. Beans and legumes. There are so many minerals essential to brain health in legumes that it’s nearly impossible to list them all. Ounce for ounce, beans are some of the best all-around sources of iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium, and they’re critical to maintaining brain function at every level.
3. Blueberries and other berries. Berries contain an antioxidant that’s especially effective in protecting the brain from free radical damage, as well as reducing inflammation in the brain that can lead to chronic health problems.
4. Pumpkin and other squash. It’s the vitamin A that’s so important here, so if you’re not a fan of squash, choose other vegetables high in vitamin A, like tomato, asparagus, and carrots. All of these tasty choices will protect brain function, comprehension and reasoning.
5. Cruciferous vegetables. You may not know the term, but it includes brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and other similar veggies. Cruciferous vegetables contain high quantities of B vitamins and powerful antioxidants that help prevent dementia. Another tasty reason to choose them? They reduce the levels of an amino acid that can inhibit cognitive function.
6. Omega 3 fatty acids. Fatty fish, avocado, nuts, flax seed, and olive oil are all excellent sources of high quality omega 3s. These essential fatty acids pack a powerful punch for brain health, with the ability to reduce the risk of dementia by more than 25%!
7. Turmeric. This exotic and very tasty Mediterranean spice is becoming more common, thanks to its many 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 help slow aging in the brain.
Pillar Two: Get MOVING to Protect Your Brain
The activities you choose help complement the food you eat -- a one-two punch to help keep your brain healthy.
1. Regular exercise. We all know that exercise is good for your heart, but did you know it’s also good for your brain? It’s true… taking steps to increase blood flow, oxygen and nutrients will help keep your brain healthy and sharp.
Your brain needs all three types of exercise:
● Aerobic exercise – aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week -- even short bursts of energy add up. And if you’re up to it physically, do even more for extra brain and body benefits.
● Anaerobic exercise – or strength training. Aim for two to three strength training sessions per week. This can include lifting weights or doing body weight exercises like push-ups (on your knees is fine) or squats.
● Balance exercises. Not only can balance exercise help keep your brain healthy, but they also protect against falls, which can cause head trauma and other injuries. Work on your balance often throughout the week, through everything from yoga or tai chi classes, to standing on one foot while you brush your teeth or 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 remain socially engaged. Make an effort to stay in touch with your friends and 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 benefit your mood and your brain. And that leads us to our next pillar…
3. Relax. Cortisol, the hormone your body produces when life gets stressful, is damaging to your brain. That means it’s important to relax and give your brain a break. Go for a run, stretch, take a hot bath, find a quiet spot to meditate, discuss your concerns with friend or loved one – just find a way to reduce your stress levels, and you’ll benefit your brain as well.
4. Have fun. Life sometimes becomes too serious, and that can take its toll on your brain. Make it a habit to prioritize fun in your life, no matter what fun means to you. Just be sure to laugh, engage and really enjoy what you’re doing. Now that’s a win-win -- while you’re having a great time, you’re also helping avoid dementia.
Pillar Three: Brain-boosting exercises
Physical exercise goes hand-in-hand with mental exercise when it comes to brain health. When it comes to cognitive ability, it’s use-it-or-lose it, so keep your brain sharp with these mental exercises:
1. Brain Teasers and puzzles. Popular brain games like sudoku, crosswords, logic puzzles, and math problems all work different sections of your brain. Try doing a different type of puzzle every day or every week to keep all of the different parts of your brain sharp.
2. Learn something new. Continuous lifetime learning is one of the best ways to avoid dementia. When you learn something new, you create new neural connections and keeps the ones you’ve got in good shape. In addition, learning helps improve and maintain memory. You have so many options to learn new things, like reading books or magazines, taking classes, and exploring the wide variety of online learning options, like apps, websites, classes, and much more.
3. Listen to music. In addition to being enjoyable, listening to your favorite music can actually help exercise your brain. Music improves brain function by:
● Boosting focus, concentration, and attention span
● Enhancing brain elasticity
● Reducing the chronic stress that can cause physical changes to your brain
● increasing brain hormone levels that help strengthen cognitive ability
● Improving mental productivity
● Reducing mental decline and cognitive aging
Imagine getting all of those benefits, just by playing some of your favorite tunes.
4. Learn a new language. Our brains shrink as we age, which contributes to cognitive decline. Learning a new language can not only reverse shrinkage, but also actually increase the size of your brain. That makes it easier to maintain brain connections, which in turn, helps protect your thought processes and mental capacity for a longer period of time.
5. Fine detail and hand-eye coordination activities. Needlepoint, painting, sewing, building models, and similar fine detail and hand-eye coordination activities are actually considered brain exercises. They can effectively stimulate neurological function, improve concentration, and lower your risk of dementia.
When it comes to avoiding dementia, you no longer need to roll the dice and hope for the best. By understanding these three pillars and incorporating these guidelines into your daily life, you can protect your brain health… and stay you for years to come.