Our brain controls everything we do. This fascinating, complex machine, made up of over 100 billion nerve cells, has power over our emotions, memories, movement and speech. So, taking care of it is key!
According to 2021 research by the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, only 1 in 3 UK adults is actually aware that they can reduce their risk of dementia; a loss in cognitive function caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s. However, up to 40% of dementia could be linked to risk factors influenced by us such as smoking, obesity and high alcohol consumption.
It’s never too late to implement some simple lifestyle changes; in fact, your 40s and 50s are an ideal time to take action!
Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign is all about celebrating your brain and the amazing things it does, every day. Give these simple, research-backed tips a try to boost your brain and help reduce your risk of dementia too…
Love your heart
You might not realise this, but brain health starts with your heart! Protecting your heart doesn’t need to be difficult though.
If you’re a smoker, quitting is one of the biggest heart helpers you can implement, whilst also helping to lower your risk of dementia. It’s not easy but there are lots of helpful resources out there such as those offered by the NHS.
Staying active is important too; this doesn’t mean pounding a treadmill for hours on end. Even a brisk walk counts, as does gardening,a bike ride with friends or going along to a free, weekly parkrun (opens in new tab) event near you. A 2018 HUNT study linked more exercise in midlife with a lower risk of dementia, whilst in 2021, US research found that those who exercised more had less damage to the small blood vessels that spread through the brain.
Next up is diet. Balance is key here; aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, along with a selection of starchy carbs, protein sources such as fish, meat and tofu, some healthy fats such as those found in nuts and avocado, and keep processed, sugary foods to a minimum. Give the NHS’ Eatwell Guide a read for a simple breakdown. Along with food, it’s wise to drink alcohol responsibly. You don’t need to give it up completely, but try not to drink more than 14 units a week spread out over at least three days, with several alcohol-free days each week. This is because long term, heavy drinking is linked to a higher risk of dementia and can also directly cause some types of dementia.
Unsure how much you’re drinking? Chat to your GP, who can offer some friendly advice or check it out on Alcohol Change UK’s unit calculator.
Keeping tabs on your blood pressure is also important. A third of UK adults have high blood pressure, but a study undertaken on men and women in their fifties showed that controlling blood pressure during this time could help protect the brain from damage associated with dementia. It’s worth booking an appointment with your GP to have it checked, and if you’re over 40, you should aim to have it checked every five years. It’s a healthy habit that takes just five minutes.
Challenging your brain regularly can help protect it as you age. But you don’t need to spend hours on Sudoku; instead, dig out an old puzzle, get stuck into a good book or learn a new language with an app like Duolingo. The most important thing is doing something you enjoy, and that you will stick with.
One key study, done on 800 women over 44 years old, found that mental and physical activity helped protect the brain as we age.
How so? Essentially, it’s thought that keeping the brain active helps to build the brain’s cognitive reserve. This is your brain’s ability to cope and keep working, even in the face of damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s. So keep your brain active and reap the rewards.
Staying social is super important to keep our brains healthy. Research even suggests that social isolation in later life can be a factor in 4% of dementia cases.
So now there’s no excuse not to pick up the phone and call a friend for a chat, or arrange a get together over coffee or a walk. Even a virtual catch up over Zoom can help improve our mood and make us feel more positive and upbeat.
Struggle with your hearing? Visit your doctor for a check up; there are studies that link hearing loss and dementia, so it’s best to get checked out if you have any worries.
Want even more brain health tips?
Visit www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk for 40 simple, everyday tips to keep your brain healthy, and help reduce your risk of dementia too.
Lucy Gornall is the former Health & Fitness editor at Future and a personal trainer specializing in pre and post-natal exercise.
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