When counseling your clients to observe healthy habits, be sure to include tips on preserving mental as well as bodily fitness. The Alliance for Aging Research, a nonprofit organization, recommends following these 10 steps to keep your brain and your body in shape.
1. Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (commonly found in fish), protein, antioxidants, fruits and vegetables, and vitamin B; low in trans fats; and with the recommended levels of carbohydrates optimize brain health.
2. Stay Mentally Active. Learning new skills or languages, working on crossword puzzles, taking classes and learning how to dance all challenge and maintain cognitive function.
3. Exercise and Keep Fit. Exercising increases circulation, improves coordination and helps prevent conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which increase the risk of developing dementia.
4. Stay Social. Socializing with friends, volunteering, traveling and doing favorite leisure activities with others keeps the mind active and reduces stress, which can harm brain health.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep. Lack of sleep undermines brain health.
6. Manage Stress. Stress hormones may actually damage—or even kill—brain cells, resulting in loss of the ability to remember and to learn. Relieve daily stress by practicing yoga or by spending time with friends and family.
7. Protect Your Head. Studies show that the more severe the head injury, the higher the risk of developing dementia. Wear protective headgear and seat belts to prevent head injury.
8. Control Other Health Conditions. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet and controlling stress can reduce the risk of diseases that affect the brain (e.g., diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure).
9. Avoid Unhealthy Habits. Smoking, heavy drinking and recreational-drug use may increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
10. Consider Your Genes. If your family history indicates a higher risk of loss of mental functions, it’s even more important to be proactive about maintaining your brain health.
For more information and resources, go to www.agingresearch.org.