In the battle against dementia and Alzheimer’s, the critical role that prevention plays can’t be overstated. While researchers work to untangle the role that genetics and other risk factors play in diagnosis, doctors continue to underline the tangible benefits of a proactive lifestyle in staving off or even preventing cognitive decline. There’s a wealth of helpful information out there that deals with experts’ recommendations for maintaining a healthy brain; we really like the program outlined by the folks at Cleveland Clinic that they term the Six Pillars of Brain Health (not to be confused with LCB’s own Four Pillars of Engagement approach to Reflections Memory Care).
The Cleveland Clinic (CC) program is based on the simple premise that lifestyle directly impacts cognitive function, regardless of genetics or other predispositions. What we eat, how we deal with stress, manage our social lives, how well we sleep – all of these factors play into the health of our aging brains. It follows, then, that anything we can do to improve those aspects will strengthen our cognitive function, thereby giving our brain more of a fighting chance against the deterioration seen in dementia. So what are these six pillars, exactly? Here’s a quick rundown:
Exercise: Step one on the journey is to keep our bodies moving. The NIH guidelines for adults are a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous activity a week, preferably 30 minutes five times a week. Any activity your body can reasonably handle is beneficial, and should include a mix of aerobics, strength training, balance work, and stretching for increased flexibility. The CC has a helpful list of ideas to get you started.
Food and Nutrition: The emphasis here is on prioritizing antioxidant foods to balance the aging brain’s tendency towards oxidation, a chemical process that can damage brain cells and thwart healthy brain function. The best sources of antioxidants include foods found in the Mediterranean Diet, a regimen we break down for you here; anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger; fruits like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries; and, believe it or not, dark chocolate!
Medical Health: Work with your doctor to reduce your risk and/or eliminate all together hypertension, diabetes, depression, smoking, obesity, head trauma, and high cholesterol – all of which are risk factors for dementia. Head here for ideas on how.
Sleep and Relaxation: Getting a regular and sustained night’s sleep strengthens your immune system, prevents depression, and is thought to lower the accumulation of the abnormal beta-amyloid plaque tangles associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Staying relaxed and keeping stress levels low are increasingly thought of as directly tied to lowering risk of cognitive decline.
Mental Fitness: Keeping the aging brain active and agile is known to stimulate the growth of new brain cells and improve overall brain function. Like muscle strength, the CC doctors argue, your brainpower depends on a “use it or lose it” approach. Head here to read about strategies they recommend for building up brain reserves.
Social Interaction: We’ve talked often on the blog about the potential health issues associated with elderly who are isolated; Cleveland Clinic picks up the thread, linking social activity as critical to strengthening memory retention and overall brain health. The National Institute on Aging delves further into this topic on their website, offering helpful preventive strategies – worth a read!
For more on the Six Pillars of Brain Health, head to the Cleveland Clinic website.