by Annabel Cooper
What you eat and how you live can directly impact the health of your brain, and the younger you start, the better.
Marie Fay, occupational therapist and owner of NorthStar Dementia, explained that with certain types of dementia, “the pathology starts in the brain sometimes up to 20 years before we start to see symptoms.” This means that what we do today can impact our brain up to 20 years down the line.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), which is the global voice on dementia, there are five crucial ways we can help reduce the risk of developing dementia. These are:
Look after your heart
Without a healthy heart, our brain cells don’t receive the right amount of oxygen and nutrients needed to function correctly. Take care of your heart by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, maintaining an appropriate weight, staying active, managing stress and following your doctor’s advice if you have conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If you need support and advice, the Bermuda Heart Foundation – bermudaheartfoundation.com – can help.
Be physically active
According to the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, “of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, taking regular physical exercise appears to be one of the best things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia”. Furthermore, studies which analysed the impact of aerobic exercise in middle-aged or older adults reported improvements in both thinking and memory, and reduced rates of dementia.
Following a healthy diet
Diet has a huge impact on brain health and the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet has been proven to help protect against developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Formulated by the late Dr Martha Clare Morris, a former nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, research studies published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a 53 percent lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease for those who strictly adhered to the diet. Even those who only followed the diet moderately well showed a 35 percent lower rate compared to those who didn’t follow it at all.
The MIND diet includes the following “brain-healthy” foods:
- Six servings a week of green leafy vegetables
- Five servings a week of nuts
- Four meals a week of beans
- Two servings a week of berries
- Two servings a week of fish
- Three servings per day of whole grains
- One serving per day of vegetables (non-green leafy)
- Olive oil if added fat is used
And the following guidelines for “unhealthy” items:
- Less than five servings a week of pastries and sweets
- Less than four servings a week of red meat
- Less than one serving a week of cheese and fried foods
- Less than 1 tablespoon a day of butter or margarine
Challenge your brain
You can and, according to the experts, should teach old dogs new tricks. Anything that is cognitively challenging is good for our minds, be it artistic hobbies, sports, quizzes or puzzles. And don’t shy away from learning something completely new in later life. “Learning a new language is one of the best ways to stimulate our brains,” said Ms Fay.
Enjoy social activity
On the subject of cognitively challenging, you don’t always have to learn new tricks. Getting out or getting together with acquaintances, friends or family is excellent for brain health. “We get so much stimulation from being around others, conversing with them, communicating with them, and being there in person,” added Ms Fay.