The prevalence of dementia and cognitive failure is rising at alarming rates around the globe. Over half a million Canadians live with dementia according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada; this number is projected to grow to 937,000 within 15 years. Around 30-40% of adults over 65 will experience normal cognitive loss — a measurable (but slight) decline on memory tests. Around 10% of adults over 65 will develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which does impact everyday living, and is a precursor of Alzheimer's.
How can you reduce your risk? Modern research has demonstrated that brain function can continue to be strengthened throughout our lifespan (neurogenesis and neuroplasticity) and that, contrary to previous beliefs, adults retain the ability to improve cognitive ability through mid and late life. Dr. Vivien Brown, VP of Medical Affairs at Medisys Executive Health, outlines eight brain boosting behaviours that can positively influence the course of brain aging.
The physical brain changes causing future cognitive decline might precede the onset of clinical symptoms by decades! Want to help prevent or delay the onset of dementia and maximize your most vulnerable cognitive abilities? Try Dr. Brown’s eight brain boosting behaviours for brain health:
1. Get more exercise
Aim for approximately 30 minutes of exercise, at least 4 times per week.Recent studies show that those who exercise regularly are less likely to get Alzheimer’s and dementia, have a reduced risk of stroke, and have significantly improved cognitive function. If you spend long periods of time being sedentary (eg. if have a desk job) you are at higher risk of not getting enough physical activity for optimal health. Exercise also increases brain volume in older adults and decreases the likelihood of experiencing even mild cognitive decline. In a randomized one-year controlled trial of 120 healthy, older sedentary adults, those who engaged in regular aerobic activity increased anterior hippocampal volume by 2% reversing age-related loss by one to two years!
2. Prioritize sleep
Vow to get more restful sleep, at least 8 hours a night. Many Canadians get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Research suggests that chronic sleep depravation (defined as less than 6 hours of sleep per night) may be more damaging to your brain than binge drinking? Make restful sleep a priority in your life, establish a regular sleep schedule and set conditions to ensure deep REM sleep. To promote more restful sleep, avoid viewing brightly-lit electronic device screens before bed such as iPads, smartphones, and computers. Studies suggest that the bright blue light from displays at night negatively impacts our sleep, suppressing melatonin and causing our bodies to want to stay up as much as 90 minutes longer!
3. If you smoke, STOP SMOKING NOW!
Smoking is really bad for your brain! According to research, smoking cigarettes damages memory, learning and reasoning (not to mention a host of other conditions caused by smoking: stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, and cancers of the lung, cervix, kidney, stomach, pancreas, bladder, esophagus, larynx and the mouth – to name a few). When it comes to smoking, there is no safe amount (unlike alcohol) - even one cigarette a day significantly increases your risk.
4. Limit alcohol consumption
Sure, red wine can be good for your heart, but we're talking about a 5 oz glass not a bottle! If you drink alcohol you should not be drinking more than 6-9 drinks per week; and NEVER more than 4 drinks in a 2 hour period! Click here for more information. Excessive long-term drinking can result in neurological damage and neurodegenerative disease, and impaired mental processing. Other long term effects of excessive drinking include: hypertension, liver disease, heart disease, pancreatitis, damage to the central nervous system, and increased cancer risk including breast cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus.
5. Reduce stress
Put yourself first, make time for activities that help you reduce stress like exercise, yoga, long walks, quiet time, and meditation. Reducing your stress levels can decrease your rate of cellular aging, thus reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Click here to learn more about the link between stress and aging.
6. Eat healthy
Research suggests that following the MIND diet can reduce risk of cognitive decline by over 50%. Avoid trans and saturated fats, but eat healthy fats, get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids through food sources, and eat a variety of vegetables every day. Studies show that those who eat more vegetables experience less risk of cognitive decline. Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium and fish oil are believed to preserve and improve brain health. Also, include unsalted nuts in your diet as well as brain protective foods like pomegranate.
7. Learn something new
Learn something new to keep your brain active! Take up a new hobby, learn a new language, engage in creative movement and dance, or enroll in a course on a subject that interests you. Practice memorization often and enjoy strategy games, puzzles and riddles — the more frequent and complex your cognitive activity, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s.
8. Fill up your calendar with social activities that you enjoy
Friends, family and meaningful social engagements can help decrease stress, and slow your rate of cognitive aging. Social connectedness has been shown to increase your brain’s resilience to injury and it increases your overall quality of life.