Brain Health Series: Lifestyle Choices

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exercise man and dogResearch has found that next to aging, the most influential factors in determining one’s susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease are lifestyle and environmental factors. Things like sleep, stress, exercise and meditation can all help improve cognitive function and maybe even delay the onset of dementia.

Exercise: Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, one of the primary brain regions for memory and cognitive function. Plus, when you exercise, you generally feel better about yourself. When you feel healthy, you look better, blood flow to the brain is improved and your body runs better altogether. You will feel sharper and more on your game just because you were active. If you aren’t currently exercising and want to start, start small! If you can’t get through the whole workout today, just do what you can. Each time you exercise, you will get stronger and gain more endurance

Sleep: Getting enough sleep is critical to proper brain function. Sleep disturbances have been thought to initiate the onset of impaired learning and memory. Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other.  In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep.  Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.  Click here for tips on a good night’s sleep.

Reduce Stress: Constant stress can make us feel more irritable and it impacts our ability to focus. Chronic stress can also interfere with our sleep. Research has found that people with high levels of blood cortisol tend to have poorer memory when compared with peers with normal cortisol levels. It is important for people to find ways to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in moderate exercise, incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily lives, or asking their primary healthcare practitioner about their cortisol levels. There are tests  available to determine your cortisol levels.

Meditation: Meditation can include any practices that promote relaxation, mindfulness or compassion. One study reported that meditation helped improve cognitive function and blood flow to the brain. The study also showed that practicing meditation had positive effects on the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that plays a role in memory and learning.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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February 2023