10 tips for loving your brain during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

A section of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease on display at the Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 7, 2003 | Associated Press file photo by David Duprey, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association is inviting the Southern Utah community to help raise awareness of this devastating disease by learning and sharing “10 Ways to Love your Brain.”

Nearly six million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease today, including 33,000 Utahns. As the sixth-leading cause of death and the only leading disease without a treatment or cure, Alzheimer’s kills more Americans every year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

“Research is still evolving, but evidence is strong that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes,” Ronnie Daniel, executive director of the Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a press release. “Based on this research, we have developed 10 Ways to Love Your Brain, a collection of tips that can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.”

When possible, combine these 10 habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Catch some ZZZs: Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 – if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.

It’s never too late or too early to start thinking about your brain’s health, and making healthy choices at any age is beneficial. Visit alz.org/10ways to learn more.

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