"Get enough sleep, eat right and go out to play!"
This advice might bring back memories of childhood or of parenting, but it's also a good prescription for a lifetime of brain health. Getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy food and time with friends all help protect the brain's health — and are on the top 10 list of brain health activities recommended by the Alzheimer's Association.
Exercise might be the single most important thing people can do to improve their body and brain health. Being physically active helps ensure that oxygen-rich blood is available to all parts of the body, including the brain. Additionally, the process of exercise strengthens cell growth and connections, which means that exercise might actually help people learn and grow throughout their lives.
A small increase in physical activity every day will help build up a habit of healthy activity. And walking is an affordable, easy way to get more exercise. For some people, setting a goal helps. For example, you could buy a pedometer — a small instrument that measures steps taken throughout the day — and gradually try to reach the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. Or, you might be more comfortable trying to build in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
Studies show a link between interrupted sleep and an increased risk of dementia. Sleep habits change as people age, but most people still require an average of eight hours of sleep to function effectively. Many medical experts believe that sleep is a necessary part of the body's self-healing process. People struggling with interrupted sleep might be reassured to know that even a 45-minute nap can improve memory, according to a study in the journal Sleep.
A healthy, low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is an important part of keeping the brain healthy. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For example, a study in the journal Nutrition Research showed that high-fat meals interfered with the memories of older adults with type II diabetes.
Eating well not only feeds your brain, but it helps your cardiovascular system stay healthy. Check in with your doctor to find out if you are meeting national standards for healthy blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Foods that feed your brain include kale, spinach, broccoli, beets, onions, corn, eggplant, prunes, blackberries, blueberries, red grapes, cherries and oranges.
Two studies published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that people over age 50 are less likely to experience dementia or memory loss if they have strong social networks. In addition to just feeling good, spending time with old and new friends challenges the brain to learn new names, details and connections between people and events.
More Great Links
AARP; February 2008, Sleep; July 2008, Nutrition Research; June 17, 2008, American Journal of Public Health; "Unhealthy Meals Dull Older Diabetics' Memories," HealthDay News; "Daytime Nap Can Boost Memory," HealthDay News
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Written by Madeline Roberts Vann, MPH
Reviewed by George T. Grossberg, MD
St. Louis University School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
Last updated August 2008