You exercise your body to stay healthy, but how often do you exercise your brain?
Research has shown that keeping your brain cells strong and sharp can help lower your risk of developing dementia. Here are four ways to make sure your body’s busiest organ keeps running smoothly.
1. Keep doing
Brain activity stimulates new nerve cell connections and may even help your brain build new cells. Activities that can help jump-start that process include:
- Reading and writing.
- Taking courses through local programs (adult education, community programs, community colleges) or online.
- Solving crossword, jigsaw, Sudoku or any other types of puzzles you enjoy.
- Taking up hobbies and crafts that require creativity or manual dexterity.
- Attending lectures or plays.
- Trying new things: learn to play an instrument, travel to a new city.
2. Move often.
When you use your muscles, you help your mind by increasing the number of blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your brain. You’ll also help develop new nerve cells and build connections between your brain cells. Plus, the usual benefits: lower blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar and stress. And you don’t need to run a marathon; walking, gardening, dancing, playing tennis or swimming all fit the bill. Aim for 30-60 minutes several times a week.
3. Eat healthy.
Feed your body, feed your mind—but feed them well. It’s been proven that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet are less likely to develop dementia. That means less red meat and salt and more polyunsaturated oils, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, plant proteins, and fish. Foods that are especially brain-friendly include:
- Wild salmon
- Dark chocolate
4. Stay social.
People with strong social networks have a lower risk of dementia, since social connections are believed to strengthen the connections between your brain cells. Social interaction also helps fight off stress and depression, which can contribute to memory loss. Stay alert for opportunities to connect with loved ones, friends and acquaintances, and consider volunteering or being part of a book club or hobby group if you’re missing the company of others.
As we get older, we all have the occasional memory lapse. But practicing these four basic habits—along with getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol and not smoking—can help keep your blood flowing and ensure your body and brain stay active and vibrant for many years to come.