Lifestyle Choices Key To Maintaining Cognitive Health

Evidence indicates that you aren’t helpless against conditions affecting cognition

May 15, 2019

Although some risk factors, like age and family history, are beyond your control, increasing evidence indicates that you aren’t helpless against conditions affecting cognition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or Parkinson’s disease. Research shows there are things you can do to maintain cognitive health as you age – and they are as simple as making the right lifestyle choices.

Cognitive health is the ability to clearly think, learn and remember – and an important part of overall health and well-being. While many individuals experience a decline in cognitive health as they age, a recent Health Talk offered by Rush Copley Medical Center to the community provided recommendations of lifestyle choices that help to maintain brain health.

Raj C. Shah, MD, Associate Professor, Family Medicine and Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, recommended five lifestyle choices that have the most evidence for supporting brain health: physical exercise, cognitive exercise, nutrition, socialization and having a purpose in life. Try incorporating some of these recommendations into your life.

  • Move your body! Physical exercise – including moderately vigorous aerobic activity – is recommended for 30 minutes at least five times a week. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. Also it helps the body to release a number of hormones, all of which help to provide a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.  Carrie Long, Manager of Fitness Systems at the Rush Copley Healthplex, adds that exercise has immediate effects, such as increasing reaction time and boosting mood. Long-term impacts may include increasing brain cells, volume, long-term memory and attention function; increasing neurotransmitters and mood elevators; and protecting against cognitive decline and degenerative diseases associated with aging.
  • Flex your brain! Cognitive exercise is important to keep the pathways in the brain active. Make learning a lifelong goal. Take a class on a subject you’ve never studied before. Learn a new language or skill. Challenge your brain daily through work, puzzles or games.
  • Eat your way to a healthy brain. Nutrition is key. According to Deborah Brunelle, RN, MSN, CNRN, SCRN, and manager of Rush Copley’s Neuroscience Services, we should choose foods rich in vitamins and healthy fats like fatty or oily fish (sardines, salmon and trout that contain Omega-3 which help build nerve cells essential to learning and memory); turmeric, a popular spice which may improve memory and helps new brain cells grow; broccoli; blueberries, which may help improve communication between the brain cells and delay short-term memory loss; pumpkin seeds; green tea; eggs; oranges; nuts (they help improve heart health which is linked to a healthy brain); and dark chocolate, which is both a mood and memory booster.
  • Get involved and socialize. Join a fitness center or book club or another group that shares your interests. It’s important to feel part of a group and to get out of your house, so go out for daily walks, invite friends for coffee or to the movies, or travel.
  • Have a purpose for your life. While work and family can provide a sense of purpose, so can volunteering, setting and achieving new goals and mastering new skills.

Do yourself and your brain a favor – incorporate these recommendations into your daily life to help maintain brain health.

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