7 Ways to Fight Brain Drain

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It’s a common belief that brain aging is inevitable, but the rate at which it ages depends partly on you. You can make several choices to invigorate your brain to make it younger than its years.

How Do I Make My Brain Stronger and Healthier?

Geriatrician Larry Lawhorne, MD, Wright State Physicians — Geriatrics, in Dayton, Ohio, says the prescription for a healthier brain isn’t all that complicated. The basics for brain health include exercising body and mind, social engagement, treating vascular risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, not smoking, minimal alcohol and getting enough rest.

“They’re so simple, but lots of times people omit one or more of these,” Dr. Lawhorne says. “Evidence is compelling that if we do all of these things, our brain is going to stay healthier. There are no guarantees in life, but you can hedge your bets in that direction.”

"Controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar if you have diabetes all can make a difference for brain health.”

Follow these seven steps to a healthier brain:

1. Exercise

“The exercise I recommend most is walking,” Dr. Lawhorne states. “Walk in a place you enjoy. Be mindful of the beauty of the environment. Get rid of stresses of the day. All of these are advantages of walking.”

In addition, walking outdoors provides sunshine and vitamin D, helps strengthen your bones and muscles and improves mood. Plus, walking offers a platform for socializing and improving circulation.

Researchers at two universities recently found that getting seniors who were sedentary to walk regularly increased the size of the hippocampus — the brain’s memory center — by 2 percent in one year. 

2. Be Social

Pursue social activities that energize you and engage your mind. Make the effort to spend time with family or friends or get involved in a community project or volunteering.

“There’s evidence that a social network is good for brain health, mood and all aspects of health,” Dr. Lawhorne says. 

3. Control Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

“A lot of problems we see may be a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia,” Dr. Lawhorne comments. “Vascular problems with small areas of the brain can impair brain function. Controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar if you have diabetes all can make a difference for brain health.”

4. Eat Healthy

All those foods that are good for your heart are also good for your brain. Focus your eating on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Read more about a brain-healthy diet.

5. Learn Something New

If you want to spark new neural connections and energize your brain, challenge it by creating something, learning a new skill or language, or thinking strategically. Dr. Lawhorne also recommends reading. 

“Going to work each day keeps the brain engaged. If you’ve reached retirement, volunteering, mentoring or serving on a board allows you to share the wisdom of decades of work and interaction. People need something to get up for,” he says. 

6. Don’t Smoke; Limit Drinking Brain Drain small

Smoking damages the blood vessels that bring food and oxygen to your brain. The negative result can be a faster decline in brain function or more severe memory or thinking problems.

Dr. Lawhorne says drinking in moderation is not harmful to the brain but cautions against excess consumption. “The effects of alcohol are more dramatic as we get older. You may not want quite as good a pour of alcohol as you age.” 

7. Get Good Sleep

“During sleep, the brain rids itself of certain toxins,” Dr. Lawhorne comments. Sleep problems such as sleep apnea (temporary stoppages in breathing while you sleep) and insomnia disrupt this cleansing process. 

“Sleep apnea is associated with changes in memory and thinking. Many people do much better if sleep apnea is treated,” he says.  

Dr. Lawhorne recommends seeking treatment for sleep disturbances. 

Larry Lawhorne, MD

Larry Lawhorne, MD

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