Make a resolution to love your brain

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Many people make New Year’s resolutions annually. Some choose to work out more and eat healthier. Others want to learn something new or do something to improve their lives.

One meaningful thing everyone can do is take care of your brain. The brain is the most important organ in your body. It controls our memory, thoughts, speech, movement and functions like breathing. The Alzheimer’s Association encourages everyone, particularly older adults who are at the highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, to take care of their brain as a New Year’s resolution.

“Research shows that healthy lifestyle interventions may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and our risk of developing dementia,” said Catherine James, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter. “As of today, there is no cure for this progressive disease that affects 5.8 million Americans, including 340,000 here in New York. Until there is, we want people to be aware of the lifestyle changes that science is showing can help preserve our brain’s health.”

Several recent developments in Alzheimer’s disease research show a strong connection between brain and body health.

“There is growing evidence that what is good for the heart is good for our brains. A recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, showed that lowering your systolic blood pressure – the first number in your blood pressure reading – can reduce your risk of cognitive impairment,” James said.

The Alzheimer’s Association is providing funding for the next phase of that study, known as SPRINT-MIND 2.0. It’s also leading research into how lifestyle change can impact the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER) is a two-year clinical trial that hopes to answer this question and is the first such study to be conducted of a large group of Americans nationwide.

There are simple steps people can take to safeguard their brain health. While scientists continue their work, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages people to adopt one or more of its 10 Ways to Love Your Brain as their New Year’s Resolution for 2020:

Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body.

Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those of people who never smoked.

Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke – obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – negatively impact your cognitive health.

Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike and take steps to prevent falls.

Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.

Catch some Zzzs. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with an increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns.

Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an afterschool program. Or just share activities with friends and family.

Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.

Currently, there is no treatment, prevent or cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but James said these simple steps may lessen your risk for developing it.

“There is much to be gained by living a healthy lifestyle and adopting brain health habits that you enjoy so that you stick with them for the long haul,” James said.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, ways to reduce your risk of developing it and the latest in research, visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

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