As we age, good brain health is important to ensure your brain is functioning at its best. According to Heart and Stroke Canada, a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of stroke and dementia later in life.
Cut down on salt and be aware of your blood pressure.
Eating too much salt has been linked to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke and dementia. When exposed to high blood pressure, arteries delivering blood to your brain become hardened, causing damage and loss of brain cells. Reduce your salt intake by using sodium and salt-free alternatives, choosing fresh foods and limiting fast food. Check your blood pressure regularly and inform your physician of fluctuations.
Increase your activity.
An active lifestyle is good for your brain – it increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, as well as improves memory and cognitive abilities. Research shows that increasing your daily step count will lower blood sugar and pressure, and increase mental stamina. Add a brisk walk to your daily routine then gradually increase daily physical activity.
Get enough sleep.
Sleep is essential for brain health and allows the brain time to recover, clear toxins and repair. Inadequate sleep can lead to memory difficulties, fatigue and irritability. Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Promote healthy sleep habits and brain health by having a regular sleep routine, limiting the use of electronics in the bedroom, sleeping in a dark, quiet room, and having a wind down period. If you do not wake up refreshed, speak with your doctor.
Protect your head.
Head trauma can cause bruising and even bleeding to the brain, affecting brain function. Repeated injuries have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Always wear an approved helmet when taking part in sports like skating, skiing, cycling, skateboarding or tobogganing. Falls are also a major risk for head injuries in older adults. Take precautions to avoid falls like keeping your home well lit at night, removing obstacles off the floor and using a walker if prescribed.
Exercise your brain.
New experiences and activities help keep your mind healthy. Regularly challenging your brain promotes memory, attention, thinking and reasoning, and keeps you sharp. Consider volunteering, reading books, doing word or number puzzles. Starting a new hobby and maintaining social contact with friends and family will also go a long way to improving and sustaining a healthy brain.
Dr. Yael Perez, MD PhD, FRCPC, is Osler’s Medical Director, Stroke Services and has been a stroke neurologist since 2010. After her subspecialty training in stroke and cerebrovascular diseases at the Toronto Western Hospital with the University of Toronto, Dr. Perez served as Medical Director of Stroke Services for the West GTA Stroke Network and Trillium Health Partners.