If you’re one of 650,000 Californians who was 65 years or older in 2019, statistics say you have a nine out ten probability of enjoying a lifetime of good brain health if you do a few simple things. Learning what to do to support good brain health – and disciplining yourself to do it – plays a crucial role in making a positive difference in your overall health, wellbeing and longevity, and it may also decrease your risk of being one of the 10% of Americans age 65+ living with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementia. Let’s take a look at five ways to support a healthy brain and improve the way you age.

Pay Attention to the Signals – They’re there to help
Things like sudden onset and dramatic problems with memory accompanied by confusion could stem from a physical ailment that once medically addressed, go away. Depression, a marked change in body weight, or chronic insomnia can signal that you need to see your physician because sleep apnea, or another physiological problem, could be the cause. The point is that these types of signals aren’t sure fire harbingers of dementia. So, instead of letting fear of a diagnosis of dementia keep you from getting help, see your doctor for a physical checkup. Protect your brain and adhere to a treatment plan that is designed for you, if one is needed. These symptoms are not something to ignore because ignoring them can negatively affect your overall brain health and increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

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Eat Right to Think Right
The food we choose to eat can harm or help the brain. Use food as a medicine and try to avoid eating the wrong foods. Omega rich foods, leafy green vegetables, high quality protein and green tea help feed a healthy brain. Refined sugar increases inflammation, so while an occasional visit to “Sugar Island” is okay, avoid living there! Focus on moderate amounts of healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, avocados, and don’t forget to add supplements such as Omega 3, Vitamin B, and Flaxseed. Studies show that Turmeric decreases inflammation throughout the brain and body, saffron improves depression, sage improves memory and cinnamon helps one with attention and focus. There is a wealth of nutritional information on how to protect both brain and body. Working to control your cravings is a great start, and there is plenty of good nutritional advice available on the Internet, so make good use of the search bar! One more essential tip – don’t forget to hydrate! The brain requires daily intake of plenty of liquid. Again, discipline is key.

Engage in Regular Healthy Brain Habits
When we exercise we’re not just focusing on our body muscles we are working to sustain our brain muscle. It is important to be consistent and to develop a daily routine. Lifting weights with a trainer or engaging in an exercise with others that you enjoy is often the best way to stay on track. In addition to physical exercise, or if you aren’t capable to exercise physically, learning something new is recommended for brain training and mental fitness.

There are a number of online computer memory games designed to increase your ability to memorize faces, objects and numbers. If you don’t want to use a computer, just pick up a book of word games, crossword puzzles or Sudoku. You might also like to start a collection of jigsaw puzzles, either online or spread over a table. Board games like Rumikub and Mexican Train keep your brain active and are activities to share with friends. Whatever your choice, set aside time to play – it’s good for the brain and the spirit. While you’re at it, you’ll reduce or delay the chance of developing dementia.

Avoid Things that Hurt your Brain
Your brain is soft like the consistency of butter and is housed in a hard skull with sharp ridges. We all need to protect our brain from injury. Wearing helmets when riding bikes helps to avoid concussions. Environmental pesticides are a brain hazard so use organic “green” products when gardening or cleaning. Good ventilation is essential anytime toxic chemicals are around. If you smoke, quit (please!); and drink only one alcoholic beverage per day if you are female or two if you are male. Did you know stress hurts the brain? It not only increases your appetite it also reduces blood flow to the brain and interferes with brain-healthy proper sleep. If you want to experience a great stress reliever, add meditation to your daily schedule. It’s been proven to boost brain health. A few meditation apps I have found helpful are Stop, Breathe & Think (https://www.stopbreathethink.com), Insight Timer (https://insighttimer.com),
Smiling Mind (https://www.smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app) and Headspace (https://www.headspace.com) . Lastly, choose your company wisely. Spend time with people who accentuate the positive rather than the negative. Increasing the positivity in your life can be the strongest and most direct path to a healthier you.

Be Connected with Others – Starting with Yourself
Our thoughts, emotions and attitudes are key determinants of how we age. We have a multitude of choices to consider when planning our own personal journey. In “Dare to be 100” Walter Bortz wrote, “To thine own self be true becomes to thine own Best self be true”. If you’ve found yourself making excuses or even lying to yourself when it comes to taking action to improve your quality of physical and brain health, it’s never too late to make healthy choices. Elicit outside support. Use the power of connection and grab a partner.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your brain health and make putting these suggestions into play a priority. Much of what you’ve read here is just common sense and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Some of it requires real discipline, which can be hard but amazingly rewarding. As we age, we can do ourselves a giant favor by making changes that make us more resilient. Who doesn’t want that?

Kathy Faenzi PhotoKathy C. Faenzi MA is a Clinical Gerontologist and Senior Care Consultant based in San Mateo, CA.

JC Spicer, M.Ed. is a Freelance Social Science Writer and Developmental Editor based in the U.K.