Healthy Tahoe: Eat, sleep, breathe your way to better brain health
Our brain controls the function of our entire body, and the body’s response to how we live our lives has an effect on our brain. Everyday activities can improve brain health and help avoid dementia and memory loss. Lifestyle choices like diet, sleep, exercise and connection can improve brain health and can contribute to avoiding dementia and memory loss.
Food plays an important role in brain health. Research shows that a heart-healthy diet in early adulthood leads to better brain function in middle age. In a recent study, those eating a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, and legumes; moderate in nuts, fish, and alcohol; and low in meat were 46% more likely to have better cognitive function than those who didn’t.
Cognition and memory are linked to sleep. When sleep is interrupted it is difficult to form or maintain the pathways in the brain that let us learn and create new memories. As challenging as it might be, getting an uninterrupted seven to eight hours of sleep helps the brain concentrate and respond quickly throughout the day. If your sleep is fragmented, talk to your health care provider about testing for sleep disorders or other issues that can be getting in the way of you and your brain’s performance.
Exercise is another way to oxygenate and support the brain, as it directly increases the size or volume of the hippocampus–where memory formation happens. During the natural process of aging, our brain size decreases. Chemicals released by the brain during exercise can protect it from this process. For healthy brain function, aim for 20 minutes of physical activity per day.
Being social with others is known to reduce stress and depression while improving cognition and memory. Engaging in challenging and new tasks is important for brain health, such as learning a different language or trying a new hobby, is also important for brain health. Try to avoid passive activities, such as watching television, for long amounts of time.
Reducing medical risk factors of heart disease and stroke are a key part of preserving brain health. Hypertension, diabetes, obesity, higher cholesterol, and smoking all increase the risk of dementia, so incorporating behaviors that promote our brain’s health can have a tremendous impact on our mental and physical well-being.
Making brain health a priority through our daily actions offers many benefits and can enrich your own life and the lives of those around you.
Dr. Rituparna Das is a board-certified neurologist, practicing at Barton Neurology in South Lake Tahoe. For more information visit BartonHealth.org/Neurology and to make an appointment call 530-539-6047.
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