From the Philadelphia Gay News

October 15, 2015

By Krista McKay

Given the growing evidence that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline, the Alzheimer’s Association and its experts are sharing tips that may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

• Physical activity is a valuable part of overall wellness and is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.

• Incorporate activity you enjoy so you continue to engage in it. For example, you may enjoy walking at a moderate pace, gardening or biking.

• Consider physical activities that may also be mentally or socially engaging, such as walking with a friend, taking a dance class, joining an exercise group or golfing.

• If you participate in activities such as bike riding, protect your head and brain by wearing a helmet.

• Consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.

3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.

4. Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.

5. Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seatbelt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike and take steps to prevent falls.

6. Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction:

• Focus on fruit, veggies, nuts and grains.

• Replace butter with healthy fats, like olive oil.

• Limit red meat.

• Use herbs to flavor food rather than salt.

• Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week.

• A variation is the combined Mediterranean-DASH diet, which includes an emphasis on plant-based foods, limited animal and high-saturated-fat foods and specifies berries and green, leafy vegetables.

7. Catch some Zzzs. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

8. Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental-health concerns, and manage stress.

9. Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or just share activities with friends and family.

• Remaining socially active may support brain health and possibly protect against cognitive decline.

• Staying socially active through participation in clubs, volunteer efforts and other community pursuits may be valuable in maintaining your overall health.

• Social activities can be low-cost or free, such as joining a walking group or book club in your neighborhood.

10. Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short- and long-term benefits for your brain.

The Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter will be partnering with the LGBT Elder Initiative and community partners to present “The Aging Mind 102: Dealing with Dementia” Nov. 14. This program will include further information on brain health, as well as discussions on the physical impacts of dementia, end-of-life planning and resources and strategies for caregivers.

The chapter also presents free “Healthy Habits for Healthy Aging” seminars. Log onto alz.org/delval and click on the calendar link under the education tab or call our 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Krista McKay, director of programs and services for the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter, has been helping people affected by dementia and their families for the past decade through information, referrals, support, education, advocacy, research and fundraising to find an end to Alzheimer’s.