Make 2024 the year to commit to brain health
As people pursue their New Year’s resolutions, the Alzheimer’s Association® is encouraging everyone to commit to brain health in 2024. Research shows that healthy behaviors may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and help reduce the risk of dementia. A recent poll reported that retired Americans fear developing dementia more than any other condition.
While some brain changes are inevitable as we age, there is a growing body of research to suggest that adopting healthy behaviors, including healthy eating, exercising regularly, not smoking and staying cognitively engaged may help our brain health at any age.
Several studies on risk reduction generated considerable attention in recent years, including one that found eating a large amount of ultra-processed food can significantly accelerate cognitive decline. Another study suggests that regular physical activity, even modest or low exertion activity such as stretching, may protect brain cells against damage.
“Understanding the role that brain healthy behaviors may play in reducing cognitive decline is a robust area of research,” said Dr. Elizabeth Edgerly, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter. “There are steps we can take now to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline later.”
Based on mounting scientific evidence, the Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 healthy habits for your brain. Positive, everyday actions can make a difference in brain health. On a recent Facebook live, Dr. Edgerly met with Dr. Josette Rivera from UCSF to discuss these habits and how to incorporate them into your life.
Follow as many of these 10 tips as possible to achieve maximum benefits for the brain and body. Incorporate some or all of these habits into your life to help maintain a healthy brain — it’s never too early or too late to start.
- Challenge your mind. Be curious. Put your brain to work and do something that is new for you. Learn a new skill. Try something artistic. Challenging your mind may have short- and long-term benefits for your brain.
- Stay in school. Education reduces your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Encourage youth to stay in school and pursue the highest level of training possible. Continue your own education by taking a class at a local library, college, or online.
- Get moving. Engage in regular exercise. This includes activities that raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to the brain and body. Find ways to build more movement into your day — walking, dancing, gardening — whatever works for you!
- Protect your head. Help prevent an injury to your head. Wear a helmet for activities like biking, and wear a seatbelt. Do what you can to prevent falls, especially for older adults.
- Be smoke-free. Quitting smoking can lower the risk of cognitive decline back to levels similar to those who have not smoked. It’s never too late to stop.
- Control your blood pressure. Medications can help lower high blood pressure. And healthy habits like eating right and physical activity can help too. Work with a health care provider to control your blood pressure.
- Manage diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or controlled by healthier eating, increasing physical activity, and medication, if necessary.
- Eat right. Eating healthier foods can help reduce your risk of cognitive decline. This includes more vegetables and leaner meats/proteins, along with foods that are less processed and lower in fat. Choose healthier meals and snacks that you enjoy and are available to you. Make eating right a habit!
- Maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your health care provider about the weight that is healthy for you. Other healthy habits on this list — eating right, physical activity and sleep — can help with maintaining a healthy weight.
- Sleep well. Good quality sleep is important for brain health. Stay off screens before bed and make your sleep space as comfortable as possible. Do all you can to minimize disruptions. If you have any sleep-related problems, such as sleep apnea, talk to a health care provider.
“Research confirms what we have suspected for some time – people can lower their chances of cognitive decline with healthy habits,” said Edgerly. “Adopting as many of these 10 everyday actions as possible can decrease dementia risk. This is true even for people who have a history of dementia in their families. It’s never too late or too early to take charge of your brain health.”