8 brain health tips for a healthier you


Follow these tips to protect your head and to stay active and engaged. Exercise, sleep, diet and social life are all important for a healthy brain.

Introduction

At 3 pounds, the brain isn't very large, but it is a powerhouse. Those 3 pounds hold your personality and all your memories. The brain coordinates your thoughts, emotions and movements.

Billions of nerve cells in your brain make it all possible. Called neurons, these brain cells send information to the rest of your body. If they aren't working properly, your muscles may not move smoothly. You might lose feeling in parts of your body. Your thinking could slow.

The brain doesn't replace neurons that are damaged or destroyed. So it's important to take care of them. Head injuries, drug use, and health conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease can cause brain cell damage or loss.

Developing brain health habits is a key way to keep your brain healthy. That includes following safety measures and keeping your brain active and engaged. Try these brain health tips:

1. Work up a sweat

People who are physically active are more likely to keep their minds sharp. Regular physical activity also can help improve balance, flexibility, strength, energy and mood. Research suggests that exercise may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking. Or it recommends 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging. It's best to spread this activity throughout the week. If you don't have time for a full workout, try a few 10-minute walks during the day.

2. Protect your head

A brain injury can have a significant long-term impact on a person's life. Brain injuries can affect thinking, memory, coordination, speech and emotions. To protect your brain, always wear a helmet when doing an activity where there's a risk of head injuries. Examples include biking, skiing, riding a horse or when using a motorcycle, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.

Other common causes of head injuries include car accidents and falls. Help avoid hits to the head by wearing a seatbelt in the car. To keep from falling, be careful with your footing on ladders, on uneven ground or when you're in an unfamiliar area. Help prevent falls at home by removing clutter from stairs and hallways. Keep stairways well lit. Make sure all carpets and rugs are firmly attached to the floor so that they don't slip.

3. Take care of your health

Some medical conditions can raise the risk of developing problems with thinking and memory. They also may raise the risk of having a stroke, which can damage blood vessels in the brain. Among the most common of these conditions are diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. If you have ongoing medical concerns, follow your healthcare professional's directions on how best to treat and control them. If you don't have these conditions, ask your healthcare team what you can do to prevent them.

4. Meet up with friends

If you're on the fence about whether to go out with friends or invite loved ones over, do it. Being social helps ward off depression and stress. Both can make memory loss worse. Social isolation and loneliness also have been linked to a higher risk of a decline in thinking skills and Alzheimer's disease.

5. Get a good night's rest

Sleep is the human equivalent of plugging in your phone to charge. A good night's sleep helps improve brain function and memory, keeps you alert and makes it easier to do daily tasks. Rest also eases stress and depression.

Make getting enough healthy sleep a priority. Adults should sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. If snoring disrupts sleep, make an appointment with your healthcare professional. Snoring could be a sign of a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. Conditions that disturb sleep may raise the risk for a decline in thinking skills and dementia.

6. Make a salad

Research has found that eating a healthy diet may play a role in preventing or delaying symptoms of dementia. In particular, the MIND diet can be a valuable tool for brain health.

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This diet of brain healthy foods gives your brain fuel to help improve mental focus and slow decline in thinking skills. The MIND diet focuses on plant-based foods. It includes plenty of leafy greens and other vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, poultry and fish. It limits foods like butter, cheese, red meat and sweets.

7. Challenge your brain

Just as physical activity keeps your body in shape, activities that engage your mind can keep your brain in shape. And those activities may help improve brain function and memory. Do crossword puzzles. Read. Play games. Learn to play a musical instrument. Try a new hobby. Volunteer at a local school or with a community group.

8. Be careful with medicines and limit alcohol

Drugs and alcohol can affect how brain cells communicate with one another. They also can have an effect on your brain's ability to react, plan, solve problems and control impulses. Follow the directions on medicines carefully. That includes medicines that you get without a prescription.

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Drinking too much raises your risk of a fall and can cause memory problems. It also can make worse some medical conditions that affect the brain, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.


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