Use it or lose it! Like your muscles, your brain needs regular workouts to stay healthy and fit as you age. Why? Just as we lose some muscle as we get older, our brains can atrophy, too. Brain exercises for Alzheimer’s are not only a powerful preventative measure, they can tone and build the brain and memory of an Alzheimer’s sufferer the way physical exercise tones and builds the body.

brain fitnessBrain exercises can slow down, halt, or even help to reverse the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Unfortunately, normal day to day living usually doesn’t give the neuron sharpening exercise you need.

The good news is that you’re never too old to start boosting your brainpower, and it can be fun.

The fact that mental exercises can bolster your brain has even been discovered by the press. The Daily Mail in England reports that volunteers aged 65 and over who did just ten hours of training their memory, problem solving and reaction times had mental abilities similar to people seven to fourteen years younger who hadn’t done such exercises.

Studies show that staying mentally active can slash the chance of getting Alzheimer’s by fifty percent. Even the schoolwork that you did when you were young has an effect. A study carried out in China showed that those with no schooling were five times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than those who graduated from high school. A Swedish study showed that those with schooling below grade eight were two and a half times more likely to get AD.

So just what sort of mental exercises tunes up the brain and gets it firing on all cylinders?

The 6 pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle:

6 pillars brain healthThe health of your brain, like the health of your body, depends on many factors.

While some factors, such as your genes, are out of your control, many powerful lifestyle factors are within your sphere of influence.

The six pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle are:

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Mental stimulation
  4. Quality sleep
  5. Stress management
  6. An active social life

The more you strengthen each of the six pillars in your daily life, the healthier and hardier your brain will be.

When you lead a brain-healthy lifestyle, your brain will stay working stronger…longer. Lets’ take a look at the 6 pillars in greater details below:

1. Regular exercise is essential for maintaining good blood flow to the brain as well as to encourage new brain cells. It also can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and thereby protect against those risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Growing evidence shows that physical exercise does not have to be strenuous or even require a major time commitment. It is most effective when done regularly, and in combination with a brain-healthy diet, mental activity and social interaction.

2. A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as omega-3 fatty acids may not only be good for your heart — it may also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Looking at more than 2,000 dementia-free adults ages 65 and older, researchers revealed that persons who consumed a Mediterranean-type diet regularly were 38 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the next four years, according to Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas of Columbia University in New York and colleagues.

The dietary pattern is characterized by eating more salad dressing, nuts, tomatoes, fish, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark and green leafy vegetables and lesser quantities of red meat, organ meat, butter, and high-fat dairy products.

The findings were published online in the journal Archives of Neurology.

3. For mental stimulation, a new review of the scientific research shows that puzzles, games and other mentally challenging tasks may indeed be beneficial for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

The report comes from the Cochrane Library, a scientific review board in the United Kingdom. The news is hopeful for anyone coping with the stresses of Alzheimer’s disease. While other studies have suggested that mentally challenging games and puzzles may help to ward off Alzheimer’s, the Cochrane collaboration is considered particularly scientifically rigorous and looked at people who already have the disease.

Scientists analyzed 15 studies to date involving 718 men and women with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. They encompassed a wide range of enjoyable activities aimed at stimulating thinking and memory, including word games, puzzles and discussions of current events. Music and practical activities like baking or indoor gardening were also among the activities considered to be cognitively stimulating, whereas other activities, like watching TV or going to physical therapy, were not.

4. A disturbed night’s sleep might signal a future diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with Alzheimer’s often complain of changes in their sleep patterns during the early stages of the disease. In healthy people, for example, daytime naps usually last around 20 minutes, but they can be to 3 hours long in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Roxanne Sterniczuk, a neurophysiologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and her colleagues wanted to determine how early these changes occur and if they could predict a person’s future risk of developing the disease.

Sterniczuk and her colleagues analysed data from around 14,600 healthy people, collected as part of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), a long-term observational study of people aged 50 and over from 12 European countries. They looked at various measures of sleep quality, and used them to produce a ‘sleep disturbance index’.

The researchers found that participants who reported sleeping restlessly, feeling tired during the day and taking sleep medication were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within the next 2 years, and that the greater the extent of these problems, the more severe were the symptoms of the subsequent disease.

5 Daily stress, especially when it is chronic and not alleviated, takes a huge toll on our collective health. And, if you don’t think stress levels in the U.S. are higher than ever, take a look at the number of tranquilizers, antidepressants, high blood pressure medicines, and antacids being taken today. All of these medications are used for illnesses made worse by stress – and they are the best-selling drugs in Western countries. Need I say more?

When you are stressed, chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol flood your body. These chemicals cause your heart to beat faster, and also cause that “stimulated” feeling you experience under stressful conditions.

Cortisol, in excess, damages the cells in the memory center of your brain. It stops glucose from entering your brain cells. It blocks your neurotransmitter function and causes brain cells to become injured. High levels of cortisol also impact your ability to learn and retain new information (this is called short-term memory loss). As stress and cortisol levels increase, so does your chance of developing memory loss.

What’s worse is that, as you age or if you develop an illness, you naturally have a decreased ability to handle stress and lower your blood cortisol levels. This can ultimately lead to the death of your brain cells – a situation that can affect all areas of your memory, as well as overall brain health.

6. Having and active social life with  friends whom you can share your joys and sorrows, exchange advice and celebrate with during your special days provides you with the social support you need. Being socially active can also help seniors, stay physically and mentally active, which are both important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Engaging in physical activities with your friends including exercise can lower your stress level and decrease isolation that can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to a study conducted by a team of researchers from Duke University and Johns Hopkins, men who engaged in social and mentally stimulating activities during their midlife years had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.

So whether it is taking a yoga class with friends or going for morning walks with a neighbor, regular exercise and social interaction are good in maintaining an active and healthy senior lifestyle.

Being socially active is not only a great way to manage stress but it is also a wonderful way to enjoy the company of good friends while trying to fend off Alzheimer’s.

These healthy lifestyles can make a big difference to your life, whether you’re trying to prevent Alzheimer’s or already have it. You can gain years of life that could otherwise be lost. Get started now, and keep challenging your brain. It’s worth the effort. And remember that there are a lot more things you can do to fight this terrible disease. Of course, if you suspect you have Alzheimer’s, see your doctor!

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