No matter your age, there is plenty YOU can do to protect your brain health
– across your lifespan.
My passion and sub-specialty as a sports neurologist have led me down some
fantastic and exciting paths when it comes to helping people harness the
brain's power to help them achieve optimal performance – whether
it's on a sports field, in a classroom, or a boardroom. Yet my primary
specialty as a neurologist has me also recognizing ways that a keen focus
on brain health throughout a person's life is significant to reducing
the damaging effects of brain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease
and other dementias.
If you've lived long enough, you probably know at least one person
who has suffered the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease or
dementia. For the longest time in history, society believed that dementia
was simply an unpreventable consequence of aging. Alzheimer's was
thought to be something that we watched consume our loved ones as we sat
by in horror, powerless to stop it. To watch a person slowly forget the
people they love, the life they've lived, their name, and, sadly,
how to breathe or eat on their own is a horror I wish on no one.
In recent years, modern neurological science and brilliant research in
the field have revealed MANY ways we can help to end the unnecessary suffering
brought on by dementia. And whether you are the youngest or oldest among
us, you can do plenty of things to lower your dementia risk.
Exercise More. I could cite the thousands (and growing) bodies of research that indicate
activity for improved brain health and dementia risk reduction. The bottom
line is that moving your body is good for your brain, and too few people
today move their bodies enough to get the brain benefits of exercise.
Modern, automated society has made us less dependent on movement to get
us what we need these days, and our brains are suffering as a result.
You CAN fix that. Commit to exercising most days a week – no matter
what. You don't need a gym, plan, or special equipment. Brisk walking works.
Eat Well. If your heart and other vital organs are impacted by what you eat –
so too is your brain. The Standard American Diet is just that –
sad. It is devoid of brain-boosting nutrients and washes our brains in
franken-chemicals that do catastrophic damage. But this, too, is something
you can fix. If removing comfort or convenience foods entirely from your
diet seems impossible, try adding healthy foods instead. For example,
no matter what else you eat in a day, consider including at least one
leafy green vegetable and one fruit in the mix every day.
Mind Your Mental Health. Much recent research points to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as
a potential risk factor for the development of dementia later in life.
While there isn't much you can do as an adult to fix what happened
to you as a child; many therapists specialize in helping adults work through
traumatic experiences from childhood. No matter the root cause, especially
if you don't know what it is, seeking mental health care is imperative
for brain health right now and in the future.
Prioritize Relationships. I know that technology and a global pandemic have taken the place of real
human interaction for many of us, but there truly is no replacement. It
is crucial to prioritize in-person social and family connections that
bring you joy. Social isolation and loneliness are linked to cognitive
decline and higher rates of Alzheimer's disease.
None of the above strategies is complicated, but that doesn't make
them easy, either. For many of us, lifestyle choices are deeply embedded
in cultural or societal traditions. Attempting to change overnight is
likely an ineffective strategy. So, to start, aim to do a little better
today than you did yesterday. Try that strategy every day for a month
and see where you land. I bet you'll be shocked to learn it's
in a healthier and happier place. Keep going. Maintaining your brain for
a lifetime is worth the effort, and after a while, those health strategies
will become second nature, and you won't even have to "think"
about doing them anymore. You can thank your brain for that gift too.