Maintain a healthy brain and help prevent cognitive impairment and dementia.
Healthy choices play a vital role in the overall wellbeing of our bodies and minds. What we eat and drink, how often we exercise, the ways we socialize and how we mentally stimulate our brains are all important components of a healthy lifestyle.
It Pays to Feed Your Brain: Diet for Brain Health
We’ve all heard the phrase “good food is good medicine,” and the importance of fueling your body with whole, nutritious foods; this applies not only to your physical well-being, but also your brain health. The brain consumes more energy than any other single organ in the body, and requires more nutrition to keep it functioning well—so it pays to feed your brain!
Diets from all over the world have been examined for their contribution to brain health, and it seems that the “Mediterranean Diet”—rich in fresh, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and healthy fats—is the most beneficial. Limiting refined starches, red meats and poultry also factor into a healthy diet for your brain; and of course, this kind of diet is good for the rest of your body as well. Eating the right foods to help prevent obesity and illnesses like diabetes and heart disease will not only make your body healthier, but increase your brain’s ability to fully function as you age.
Physical Activity: How Exercise Affects Your Brain
Regular physical activity helps promote a healthy heart and blood vessels, improving circulation to the brain and allowing it to receive more nutrition and stimulation. 20 to 30 minutes of walking every day—either all at once or in 10-minute sessions—helps the circulatory system. When the weather is nice, enjoy a gentle walk outdoors near your home, if you are physically able. Breathing the fresh air, hearing the sound of birds and the activity around you, and the visual stimulation of your environment all help to improve alertness and awareness. When the weather is less hospitable, a walk in the mall or a large building to get your muscles, joints, and brain moving!
Mental Activity: Continued Learning is Good for Your Brain
Keeping your brain stimulated by taking classes or finding new activities you enjoy can help keep your cognitive abilities sharp. Learning a new language, taking up new hobbies such as woodworking or knitting, playing a new instrument, or learning a new language all help strengthen and grow the portions in your brain that help with memory. Although we say we can’t teach an old dog new tricks, humans can learn new things at any age. Pick something you’ll enjoy learning, and don’t be afraid to try new ideas along the way.
Staying Social: Interaction with Others is Key for Brain Health
The most important activity that can keep your brain healthy and prevent dementia is interaction with other people. Eating meals together, having conversation with others, playing games or working side-by-side all stimulate the entire brain’s activity and help keep the memory channels open. Joining a men’s or women’s group, participating in a book club or church group, or going for a walk with a friend are all good ways to meet people, enjoy company, and keep your brain active.
Make your brain health a priority
Making sure your body and brain are well taken care of results in a lifetime of healthy habits and elevated wellbeing. To get started, follow these four steps:
- Eat healthy, fresh foods when possible, such as fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit meats and don’t overdo starches like bread and pasta. Cook with monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, which may help lower your risk of developing heart disease.
- Stay physically active. Set out a time every day for regular movement, and walk whenever possible.
- Find a new activity that you can learn. Added benefit: it will keep you from being bored and you’ll learn new hobbies along the way.
- Enjoy the company of others. Social interaction has been proven to be the most important activity to promote brain health.
Dr. Volker is an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Internal Medicine at Des Moines University. He is board-certified in family medicine and in geriatrics. In addition to seeing patients in the DMU Family Medicine Clinic, he instructs in the Medicine, Podiatry, and Physician Assistant programs. His teaching responsibilities include small-group instruction in case-based learning and patient simulation, and he lectures extensively in the geriatrics, cardiology, and hematology courses.