Today we’ll be talking about brain health in honor of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in June, so if you have a brain, this information is for you!
Your brain is the most complex organ you have, and it’s always changing. This process is called brain plasticity. The brain is able to grow new connections and repair broken ones. While changes are normal, there are several things we can do each day to stay at the top of our game and maintain brain health as we age.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits not only contributes to your physical well-being but is also good for your brain. It’s never too early to start living a brain-healthy lifestyle, so follow these tips to improve cognitive health as you age.
1. Adopt a Mediterranean eating pattern, which has been shown to have protective effects for the heart and brain. Incorporating more Mediterranean foods and behaviors is easy. In general, opt for more whole foods and less processed foods. Incorporate more plant-based proteins like beans and lentils plus healthy fats like olive oil and avocados.
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2. Get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week (about 30 minutes on most days). If you’re able, walking is a great place to start. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve exercised. Start with an activity that doesn’t strain your body, and consult with your doctor about the type and amount right for you. Regular physical activity may reduce risks of diabetes, heart disease, depression and stroke, prevent falls and improve connections among brain cells.
3. Manage other health conditions you may have like high blood pressure or diabetes. Healthy lifestyle habits can have a protective effect for your brain, so consult with a registered dietitian for support with an eating plan that fits your needs. Whether you’re taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, talk with your doctor if you notice changes in your cognitive function.
While you may not have control over all of your risk factors — like genetics — you do have control over many others like the foods you choose, your level of activity and how well you’re managing other health conditions.
It’s never too late or too early to start living a brain-healthy lifestyle. Start with one small step in the right direction:
- Schedule a health screening or physical exam.
- Review your medicines with your health care provider.
- Add at least one more daily serving of vegetables to your diet.
- Start a food, activity, or health journal to track your progress.
- Spend more time with family and friends.
- And engage in mentally stimulating and challenging activities.
Adopt these habits to help improve your cognitive health. It’s a no-brainer.
Additional resources and brain-related activities to explore:
- University of Illinois Extension blog post- Improving brain health and memory.
- The Hidden Brain Podcast — NPR.
- Mind Your Risks — National Institute of Health.
- Brainy Resources managed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
- Illinois Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association- Virtual Learning (webinars & programs by phone).
- The Dana Foundation — brains games and puzzles for all ages.
Kristin Bogdonas is the Nutrition & Wellness Educator for University of Illinois Extension serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark Counties. For more information, resources, and events, visit extension.illinois.edu/hmrs.