World Alzheimer’s Month Brought to you by Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma

Fitness for your brain

When we hear about fitness, most often we think about physical fitness and how important exercise is for our overall health. But what about brain fitness? Just as exercise and other healthy habits are important for our physical health, there are certain things you can do to help keep your mind healthy.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and MCSO would like to share some tips to help keep your brain healthier as you age.

What are dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Dementia is not considered a normal part of aging. It isn’t a specific disease, but rather encompasses a range of symptoms associated with a loss of memory or thinking skills that can make everyday tasks difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Although it can occur in younger people, dementia most often affects those age 60 and older, and the risk increases with age. In addition to affecting memory, language and decision-making abilities, dementia can also cause changes in mood — including anxiety, irritability and depression — behavior, and personality.

Tips for a healthy brain

Although it’s natural to lose some mental agility as we age, there are steps you can take to keep your brain healthier and possibly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementias. The health care team at MCSO recommends you:

  • Get physical exercise regularly. Exercise helps maintain good blood flow to the brain and encourages new cell growth. Aerobic exercise helps improve oxygen consumption, which in turn benefits brain function. Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous, just as long as you do it regularly. Just 30 minutes of walking, biking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, or even gardening can offer benefits.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a long-term study showed that individuals who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia later in life. Studies have also shown that foods high in fat and cholesterol are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Increase your intake of brain-healthy foods. These foods may help protect brain cells, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and stroke: dark-skinned fruits and vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts, prunes, plums, blueberries and blackberries; cold-water fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, trout and halibut; and nuts such as almonds, pecans and walnuts.
  • Be socially active. Research shows that socially active people maintain brain vitality. Try combining social activity with exercise, such as going to group exercise classes, or walking or playing golf with friends. Social engagement can also make you feel connected with others and alleviate depression and loneliness.
  • Do mentally stimulating activities. Play memory games, do crossword puzzles and brain teasers, or take a class at a local community college and you’ll be doing something healthy for your brain. The mental decline that accompanies aging appears to be caused by altered connections among brain cells, but research has shown that keeping the brain active can strengthen brain cells and their connections.

“There’s some evidence that vitamins E, C, B12 and folate may help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s,” said Tiffany Ferguson, DO- Emergency Medicine physician. “By eating a diet that includes antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, and nuts high in vitamin E, you’ll increase your intake of nutrients that are good for your brain.”

By incorporating brain-healthy behaviors into your lifestyle, you’ll be enriching your overall health and vitality as well as your mental fitness. Volunteer at a local organization, mentor someone, organize a weekly card game, or take a walk with friends — all these activities are good for your brain. Think about ways to combine cognitive and physical endeavors with other people and get the most from your activities.

About Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma

The Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma (MCSO) is a 148-bed Acute Care Hospital that continues to gain recognition for clinical excellence and efficient delivery of care.  MCSO is staffed by over 100 physicians, covering a multitude of specialties and services. This hospital is partially owned by physicians.

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Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your physician that will benefit your health.