In 2020, the most popular New Year’s resolutions among Americans will be focused on living healthier lives. In addition to achieving healthier bodies, the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter encourages people to strive to achieve healthy brains in the new year.
More than 230,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in Illinois. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause of death in the top 10 that cannot be prevented, treated or cured. However, growing evidence indicates that people may reduce their risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes. Cognitive decline is a deterioration in memory or cognition that is, to some extent, expected with age. Normal cognitive decline is different from dementia in that it is not severe enough to interfere with daily life.
The following is a collection of tips to reduce one’s risk of cognitive decline:
• Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
• Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
• Catch some Zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
• Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community, or just share activities with friends and family.
• Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
• Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
• Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
• Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
• Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
• Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.