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Use it, don’t lose it: A workout plan for your brain

<p>Chad Yucus, MD | Provided</p>

Chad Yucus, MD | Provided

The line between forgetfulness and memory loss blurs as we age.

With diagnoses of dementia on the rise, it’s important to stay vigilant and regularly activate your memory, reasoning and communication skills. While it’s true there is no cure for dementia, the notion that little can be done to delay its onset is false.

Focus now on three critical areas – physical activity, food and mental stimulation. If you follow these tips, you can help preserve your memory for the long term.

Physical exercise is important for your overall health and especially your brain. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by a significant amount. Daily activities like laundry, gardening or housecleaning contribute to your exercise goals if they raise your heart rate.

Falling becomes a greater concern as you age. Exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi help can improve your balance and agility, reducing the likelihood of head injuries resulting from a fall. These exercises also use controlled breathing, which can help manage stress and keep your head clear.

Our brains require a significant amount of energy and there are several foods that help them function at their peak. Glial cells are brain cells that remove toxins and ensure that only healthy neurons are working in the brain. A Mediterranean diet consisting of food rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and nuts and other healthy fats such as olive oil, contribute to healthy glial cells and a healthy brain.

You can also take a note from the British and start drinking more tea. Regular green tea consumption may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging, but white and oolong teas can also benefit brain health. If you aren’t much of a tea drinker, coffee is a less powerful option but should be used moderately. Water is the better alternative.

Mental stimulation is a no-brainer when it comes to dementia prevention. Challenge yourself to learn something new, attempt a crossword puzzle, or eat with your non-dominant hand. Playing board or card games is a great way to get the whole family involved. Variation from your normal routine creates new pathways in your brain that help you stay sharp.

Humans are social creatures and stimulating your brain through social interactions is one of the most effective ways to combat dementia. The next time you consider cancelling plans with friends or opting out of the Tuesday night art class, think again. If you’re feeling pressed for time, multi-task. Talk with a family member or friend on the phone while you’re cleaning or take a group class at the gym instead of working out by yourself. Other possibilities include volunteering, having a weekly dinner with friends, or inviting a buddy to join while you watch the game.

A healthy brain is important for your whole life. Use and protect it now to lessen the chance of losing it later.

Dr. Yucus is a clinical neurologist specializing in memory disorders and dementia with NorthShore University HealthSystem.

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