Simple steps for brain health

Below are some simple steps you can take to help keep your brain healthy.

If you’d like to learn more about why these steps are good for the brain, you can read the pillar overview sections – just click ‘read more’ at the top of the page.

Healthy Life

Brain Health Pillar

www.brain.health

Healthy Habits

Evidence is mounting that a healthy lifestyle can keep dementia at bay. Crucially, it is never too late (or too early) to start looking after your brain health – and even small changes could make a big difference.

The Lancet Commission has identified 12 factors which, if eliminated, could prevent or delay 40% of cases of dementia.

Hearing Loss

8%

Lack of exercise

2%

Poor education

7%

Air pollution

2%

Smoking

5%

High blood pressure

2%

Depression

4%

Diabetes

1%

Social Isolation

4%

Heavy drinking

1%

Traumatic brain injuries

3%

Obesity

1%

The 28 world-leading dementia experts of the commission said that while it can be hard for us to change our behaviour, the potential for each of us to reduce our risk of dementia is ‘huge’.

For example, losing just 2kg can give memory and attention a boost, while wearing a hearing aid may help protect against memory loss.

Genetics

A healthy lifestyle reduces a person’s risk of dementia, regardless of their genes.

Research shows that those who were genetically predisposed to dementia but followed four healthy habits were almost a third less likely to develop the condition than those with similar genes but an unhealthy lifestyle.

Four Healthy Habits

Exercise regularly. For example, two and a half hours of brisk walking or an hour and a half of singles tennis a week. (You can read more about exercise in our Exercise pillar.)

Don't smoke

Drink alcohol in moderation (no more than one drink a day for women and two for men)

Eat at least four out of seven types of food linked to a healthier brain. (You can find out how to eat your way to a healthier brain in our Nutrition pillar.)

Gut Health

Brain Health Pillar

www.brain.health

One of the most important scientific discoveries of recent years is that the bugs that live in our gut play a crucial role in communication between the gut and the brain.

Scientific evidence shows that two of most beneficial bacteria for the gut are: Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria (which are the mainstays of probiotic supplements)


Fermented Vegetables
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
Fermented Soy Foods
  • Miso
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
Fermented Dairy Products
  • Kefir
  • Yoghurt

However, what may have an even more beneficial effect are prebiotics, foods that support the growth of these ‘good’ bacteria.

Foods with particularly high prebiotic fibre content include:

  • Bamboo Shoots
  • Artichokes
  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Barley
  • Chicory Coffee
  • Black Pepper
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Beetroot
  • Fennel Root
  • Broccoli
  • Endives
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Mustard Greens
  • Ginger
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Jicama
  • Yacón
  • Leeks and Legumes

Nutrition

Brain Health Pillar

www.brain.health

A balanced diet is fundamental to brain health. The right foods don’t just fuel our brain cells, they also boost the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain and reduce potentially harmful inflammation.

When feeding the brain, and ourselves, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) suggests we divide foods into three groups. These groups broadly mirror the recommendations in diets such as the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet (read more about these in the nutrition pillar).


Foods to be Eaten Regularly

Fresh Fruits

Fresh Vegetables

Fish & Seafood

Healthy Fats

Healthy Nuts

Foods to Include in Your Diet

Beans/Legumes

Poultry

Fruits

Whole Grain

Foods to Limit

Fried Food, Pastries, and Processed Food

Red meat and Related Products

Whole Fat Dairy

Excessive Salt Intake

Sleep

Brain Health Pillar

www.brain.health

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) recommends getting seven to eight hours sleep each night


Daytime
  • Get up at the same time every day
  • Expose yourself to light during the day
  • Exercise: Regular physical exercise promotes good sleep
  • If you are overweight, lose weight
  • Beginning after lunch, avoid caffeine
  • Avoid driving when drowsy or sleep deprived
  • Don’t worry too much about the occasional night of bad sleep
Evening
  • Restrict food and fluids from three hours before going to bed
  • If you have trouble sleeping at night but doze off in the evening
    (eg when watching TV) either listen to your body and go to bed
    earlier or make yourself
  • more alert by standing up and being active
Night
  • Go to bed only when you feel drowsy enough to fall asleep
  • Maintain a regular routine in preparation for bedtime to give your body signals it is time to settle down
  • Keep the bedroom quiet and dark at night. (If you have to get up at night, use a soft amber-coloured night light rather than turning on overhead lights)
  • Maintain a bedroom temperature that is comfortable
  • Avoid over-the-counter medications for sleep as they can have side-effects, particularly as we get older
  • Dietary supplements for sleep, such as melatonin, may have benefits for some, but the scientific evidence is inconclusive
  • Consider limiting any prescription sleeping pills (which can become less effective with regular use) to three nights a week, unless your doctor says otherwise
  • Keep pets that disturb sleep out of the bedroom
  • Keep smartphones, TVs and other electronics out of the bedroom

Exercise

Brain Health Pillar

www.brain.health

To maintain and improve brain health, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) recommends we do organised (or purposeful) exercise AND try to be
active in our day-to-day lives


An Active Lifestyle (incorporating movement in daily activities)
  • Walk to work or the shops instead of driving
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Park further away from your destination
  • Engage in hobbies and sports such as active yoga, dancing and
    gardening
Purposeful Exercise (moderate to vigorous exertion)

The GCBH says that while ‘there is no consensus on what types of exercises areoptimal for brain health’, we should follow the American Heart Association’s recommendation:

 

150 minutes of weekly, moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) and Two or more days a week of moderate-intensity muscle-strengthening activities

 

  • Walking at a brisk pace to increase your heart rate
  • Strength/resistance training (eg free weights, squats, lunges)
  • Aerobic training which raises your heart rate (eg cycling, jogging,
    running)

The World Health Organisation adds that upping the amount of aerobic exercise to 300 minutes per week (moderate intensity) or 150 minutes (vigorous intensity) will bring additional benefits.

 

During moderate-intensity exercise, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you will still be able to talk. At vigorous intensity, you will probably get warm and begin to sweat, and you won’t be able to talk much without getting out of breath

Active Mind

Brain Health Pillar

www.brain.health

Whether it’s spending time with the family, finishing the crossword or learning to juggle, evidence is mounting that keeping your mind active will help you maintain your mental fitness.

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) advises being socially active and mentally active.


Social Activity
  • Focus on the friendships and relationships or activities you enjoy the most
  • Maintain contact with people of different ages, including younger people
  • If you find socialising difficult, start small by sharing a smile a day with someone or showing an interest in someone by asking how they are
Mental Activity
  • There isn’t a magic bullet – one activity that is known to be better than other for keeping the brain healthy – and so experts advise doing the things you like to do. And the more mentally  stimulating activities you do, the better

The GCBH suggestions include:

    • Tai-chi
    • Taking Photography Classes designing a quilt
    • Investigating your genealogy
    • Juggling
    • Cooking
    • Gardening
    • Playing with grandchildren
    • Playing cards or chess
    • Learning to play a musical instrument
  • The activities don’t need to be intellectual – dancing, gardening and knitting all fit the bill
  • The jury is still out on the benefits of brain training, with some research finding that while people might improve on the skill they train, they don’t do better on other mental tasks - the improvements may also not help them in their day-to-day lives (eg someone who does well on a number-based game won’t necessarily find it easier to manage their finances)
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