It’s worth attempting to keep your brain healthy now

Senior runner in nature. Man with smart phone with earphones. Listening music or using a fitness app.

Image: HalfPoint/Bigstock.com

I was reminded of the need to keep our brains as healthy as possible when I came across Bill Lyon’s story. Bill has Alzheimer’s—or ‘Al’ as he calls it. He’s personalised his disease to help him fight it—him.

A former sports writer, he’s 78 and was diagnosed as having Al as an unwanted guest in his head three years ago. He’s writing about his fight with Al in a journal series for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The series is worth checking out. It’s inspirational. It’s honest. And there’s no way out.

‘All in all, I have good days and some not-so-good days. Sometimes I can dress myself and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can read one paragraph all the way through and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I get discouraged and sometimes I—no, I won’t give in.’

‘Al is a killer, but I try at every turn to cut him off and stomp on his mangy butt. I’ll go kicking and screaming all the way, hoping this journal will be of some comfort and inspiration to those who have been diagnosed and to those who care for them.’

He asks the question, ‘So what do we do?’ Answer: ‘Resist. And persist. And never, ever, ever give in.’

So what do we do?

A good first step is to check Alzheimer’s Australia’s Your Brain Matters website and their ‘five simple steps’ to brain health.

While there are no guarantees, brain health is important once you reach middle age because that’s when changes start to occur in the brain. Looking after your brain may reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life (Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia).

In brief, the five steps are the following. I’d suggest you read the five steps for yourself to get the full picture.

1. Look after your heart

‘What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.’ It appears that what affects the heart or blood vessels negatively can increase the risk of dementia.

2. Do some kind of physical activity

Walking is good exercise. You don’t need a lot of equipment or even fitness gear. Exercise is associated with better brain function.

‘Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the growth of brain cells and the connections between them. . . . It reduces the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, which are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.’

3. Mentally challenge your brain

Challenging the brain with new activities helps build new brain cells and strengthens connections between them. It may also protect against a build-up of damaging proteins found in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning a language is a good example of teaching the brain new tricks.

4. Follow a healthy diet

The evidence suggests that a healthy, balanced diet may help maintain brain health and functionality. What is known is this: ‘Several studies have found that a high intake of saturated fats, such as those found in meat, deep fried foods and takeaway food, and trans fats often found in pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits, and buns are associated with an increased risk of dementia.’

5. Enjoy social activity

Your brain health is also linked to socialising with people whose company you enjoy. ‘It is mentally stimulating and may contribute to building brain reserve which then contributes to a lower dementia risk.’

Have I mentioned that you should check out for yourself the full report?

The bottom line is that’s it’s better to work on avoidance of the various forms of dementia early than to have to fight it later in life.

 

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

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