4 Easy New Year’s Resolutions to Achieve Lifelong Brain Health (Originally in Sixty and Me)
Covid-19 might have ruined 2020 but that doesn’t mean that 2021 has to be a bad year. A new year gives you an incentive to start new healthy habits that can lead to a better year and happier aging. But what activities should boomers be incorporating into their new year’s resolution according to the latest in brain science?
The Science Behind New Activities
You might be asking yourself, “Why should I care about brain health and incorporating new habits around it?” Well, incorporating new activities and habits can lead us to healthy aging and longevity. More and more evidence shows that age-related cognitive decline can begin long before retirement. In particular, the early signs of Alzheimer’s can manifest in our brain more than 10 years before we start to show symptoms. Tiny, hard, insoluble pebbles made up of a protein called beta-amyloid build up and are distributed within our brain affecting our ability to reason and remember. There are still no effective drugs to stop this process, so the best way to fight against this is by taking an integrated approach to your overall health. Optimizing your activities and habits in the areas of sleep, stress, exercise, diet, and cognitive activity has been shown to significantly decrease the risk of cognitive decline in at-risk older adults.
One easy resolution you can incorporate in 2021 is to create a regular sleep schedule. We know sleep is good for us but why is that? And why do we have to create a routine around it? Well, many people are sleep deprived and don’t get enough of the benefits of a good night’s sleep. During sleep, we rehearse and replay our memories and we literally clean out our brain. When we doze off, neurotoxic proteins like beta-amyloid are cleared from our brain thanks to a network of vessels called the Glymphatic system. The Glymphatic system does most of its garbage disposal at night. The removal of these toxins reduces the risk of cognitive decline and improves memory! Setting a bedtime each evening and creating a ritual with no screens an hour before bed is one simple way to keep our minds sharp.
You might’ve heard of fad diets like keto and paleo. But one healthy resolution that doesn’t involve completely cutting out carbs or sugar is to follow the Mediterranean diet. This delicious sounding diet involves high consumption of foods you probably already like: vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, cereals, and monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g. olive oil). It also involves a moderate consumption of fish and dairy, like cheese (yes, we said cheese); and lower consumption of red meat, and saturated fats. In a study that tracked aging adults following the Mediterranean diet, participants’ risk of getting Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia decreased by 45%-48%! So go ahead and indulge with veggies, fruits, cereal, fish, nuts, chocolate and cheese too. Not only is it a delicious way to start your new year, but also a great combination of nutrients for your noggin in the long run. Just eat all the colours of the rainbow!
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Did you know that exercising is one of the most popular new year’s resolutions? And there’s a good reason for that. At any age, we feel the rush of endorphins after physical activity and feel good. But as we age, exercise becomes more beneficial for our mental health and general brain function. It actually makes our brains bigger and thicker by creating more neurons. On average we create about thirty thousand new neurons a week, but with exercise, we can generate two to three times more neurons a week! These new baby neurons go to work, creating new memories, and reduce the risk of dementia, and depression! You don’t have to incorporate terribly strenuous physical activities to begin to reduce the risk of brain diseases. Committing to at least one twenty-minute walk outside in nature every day is just about as good as one tough pilates class a day. Whatever activity you choose, sticking to it can reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
Recalling thoughts can be a lot harder than it used to be, and it can take you a lot longer to think of what you had for breakfast than it used to. But what if we told you that brain exercises can help you remember things faster and better. In the Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, participants were given brain exercises to boost their reaction time and processing speed. We have more brain plasticity than we give ourselves credit for, and most people were able to react more quickly after training. Not only did subjects boost their processing speed, it turned out that they improved their memory, and they also decreased their future risk of dementia. Ten years after the training program, study participants’ risk of dementia was reduced by almost half! Taking up sports like ping pong or badminton is one way to boost your processing speed. Brain training can be scary and intimidating but making it a new year goal to just have fun with it will keep your wits in tip-top shape.
New Year, New Brain
The new year is a great opportunity to make small changes in your sleep, diet, exercise, and brain activities. Incorporating these can improve your overall brain health and decrease the risks associated with aging. Creating a sleep routine, following a healthy diet, walking outside every day, and doing things to boost brain speed are all easy resolutions you can incorporate into your day to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and boost cognitive functionality. Making new year’s resolutions is easy. But sticking to them can be difficult. Sometimes all it takes is some support and accountability to fully commit. That’s why we created the Synaptitude brain health program. Join Synaptitude and you can receive personalized strategies on how to optimize your sleep, diet, exercise, stress, and memory and track your progress. To learn more about the program, check out our brain health lifestyle assessment.
(This contributor article by Dr. Max Cynader was republished with permission by Sixty and Me. Find the original article here.)