5 Brain Health Habits
Whether you are 20 or 80, it’s never too early to start taking care of your brain! It’s easier than you think, and will have lasting effects on your physical and emotional health – and may even reduce your risk of developing – or slow the progression of – Alzheimer’s disease. It’s time to learn something, do something, and share something!
Scientists have made great gains in recent years in understanding brain health. There is growing evidence that adopting good habits earlier in life can protect your brain later on. And it isn’t rocket science! These are practical things like eating a healthy diet, participating in regular exercise, getting solid sleep, engaging in mentally stimulating activities, and caring for your emotional well-being. The hardest part is taking that first step!
Why Living a Brain-Healthy Life Matters
There is new scientific evidence to support that living a brain-healthy lifestyle today can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias tomorrow.
In fact, 1 in 3 cases of Alzheimer’s disease may be preventable by adopting and regularly practicing HFC’s 5 BrainHealth Habits. For an epidemic that has no cure and no way to slow the progression of the disease, this is huge news!
And, because Alzheimer’s actually begins in the brain up to 20-30 years before the onset of symptoms, there is no better time than now to start building a more Alzheiemer’s-resistant brain.
We are excited to help you jumpstart your brain-healthy journey, teach you how to better care for your brain, and hopefully reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
The 5 Brain Health Habits
Getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a day helps with memory retention. The good news? Sleep is even easier with meditation. In fact, if you meditate in bed, chances are you will accidentally fall asleep without even trying. Babies sleep. Insects sleep. Baby insects sleep.
Trouble getting to sleep? Improve your sleep hygiene by cutting back on things that interfere with sleep like drinking 5 cups of coffee a day, sleeping pills, keeping your bedroom set to temps that rival a sauna, exercising too close to the time you go to bed, and binge-watching Netflix until 2 am.
If you think you need sleeping pills, talk to a doctor. Some over-the-counter and prescription remedies can (spoiler alert!) actually make your sleep less restful and contribute to chronic insomnia. Your doctor can help you make the safest choice that is best for you.
Sleep Tip: Don’t even look at your phone for an hour before bed! Trust us, nothing makes you drift off to dreamland easier than the freedom from the shackles of your cell phone and screens.
And remember, if you don’t get 7-9 hours of sleep a night:
- You won’t remember what you learned and experienced from yesterday as clearly and completely—you’ll essentially experience a degree of amnesia
- Whatever you’re learning to do won’t benefit from the gains in consolidation that sleep mediates—your golf swing will still suck as much as it did yesterday
- You increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Food isn’t just fuel for your body. It’s also fuel for your brain. And the good news is that there are so many brain-healthy foods that are delicious. Here’s a list of 10 brain-healthy foods:
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens
- Whole grains
- Dark cocoa powder
Of all the organs in our body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet. From its very architecture to its ability to perform, every aspect of the brain calls for proper food. All of the foods above contain important nutrients that protect brain function and protect your brain from cognitive decline and will help you eat for your brain!
Meditation may seem daunting until you realize that it is basically just doing nothing, which is by definition easier than doing anything else, and breathing, which you’re probably already doing. And if you have trouble putting your phone down, don’t worry — there are tons of apps out there designed to help you meditate.
Recent research has found that short daily practice of mind-body therapy can help alleviate some of the signs and symptoms that often precede dementia.
But what if meditation just really isn’t your jam? There are other things you can do to reduce stress and practice self-care. Get outside in nature! De-clutter your space. Talk about your feelings with people who will listen without judgement. Avoid negative people and don’t engage in social media arguments. Learn to say “no” to things you don’t really want to do. And try to find one positive thing to focus on in any situation. Your brain will benefit from it!
Fine, we get it. Exercise can be daunting. There’s the lifting of heavy things, the heavy breathing, the heavy sweating, BUT trust us, it’s worth it because exercise is great for your brain! In fact the latest research shows that it is truly one of the very best things you can do.
The key to creating and sticking to an exercise plan is finding out what works for YOU. It’s all about:
- Moving your body
- Raising your heart rate
Exercise Tip: Take your workout outdoors, especially if you don’t usually do it. Try a bike ride or a hike. Whatever it is, science says that doing it for an estimated 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of rigorous, aerobic activity per week will help keep your brain healthy.
Physical activity that gets your heart pumping can literally grow new brain cells and new synapses in the hippocampus, a brain area critical for our ability to form new memories. Every time you move your body enough to get your heart rate up (including a good power walk) you are helping to stimulate new hippocampal cells and hippocampal synapses to grow.
It’s like exercise, but for your brain. And, guess what? You’re using your brain right now just by reading this! Plus, practicing cognitive fitness is easier than physical exercise because you can do it sitting down.
One of the best ways to work out your brain is by teaching it new things. Try learning a new musical instrument or a language, taking a course, or picking up a new hobby. And mix it up! You wouldn’t join a gym and just do bicep curls, right? Doing different types of mentally stimulating activities can exercise dormant areas of the brain and even increase blood flow to them.
Reading a book or a newspaper every day or journaling daily are also great ways to practice cognitive fitness.
Remember, keeping your mind active is one of the most impactful ways to delay the onset of cognitive decline. Activity that exercises the brain may build brain reserves that help to compensate for the damage caused by Alzheimer’s or other diseases. If the brain is able to compensate and keep functioning well, the onset of dementia may be delayed.