Grey Matters

Written By Sharon Yardley

10 August 2017

The brain is an incredible organ. It is made up of many different parts, all of which work together to help keep you alive and allow you to involve yourself in, and make sense of, the world around you.

Keeping your brain healthy is essential for living a fulfilling, healthy and long life. Best of all, it’s never too early or too late to start focussing on brain health, as it can be improved and protected at any age.

Your Brain Matters, a program from Alzheimer’s Australia, is based on scientific evidence that a number of health and lifestyle factors are associated with brain function and the risk of developing dementia. The evidence suggests that mid-life is a critical time to think about looking after your brain, body and heart. However, it is never too late to make changes that will improve your brain health. Five simple steps are recommended:

STEP 1 – LOOK AFTER YOUR HEART

Many people are unaware of the connection between heart health and brain health, even though it’s common to say, ‘what’s good for your heart is good for your brain’. Treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity is necessary for good heart health and is also likely to protect brain health. They are all conditions that are easily identified and treatable with health checks and advice from your health professional.

STEP 2 – BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

Now, more than ever, there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Exercise gives our brains a healthy boost and, once you start, you’ll wonder why you waited so long. Exercise makes us feel good and is a great activity to enjoy with friends. The National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend being physically active for 30 minutes every day.

STEP 3 – MENTALLY CHALLENGE YOUR BRAIN

Keeping your brain active is important to keeping it functioning well. It could be learning a new language, taking up a new sport or doing a course in something you’ve always wanted to do. Challenge yourself often and keep learning new things throughout life. Scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them. This helps to give the brain more ‘reserve’ or ‘back up’ so that it can cope better and keep working properly if brain cells are damaged or die.

STEP 4 – FOLLOW A HEALTHY DIET

Your brain needs a range of nutrients to function properly. Evidence suggests that a healthy, balanced diet may help in maintaining brain health and functionality. An eating plan that includes a higher intake of ‘good fats’, such as those found in fish and olive oil, is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Foods that are high in antioxidants such as tomatoes, pinto and kidney beans, pecan nuts, cranberries, blueberries and oranges also seem to be good for brain health. The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide good ways to include a variety of foods every day.

STEP 5 – ENJOY SOCIAL ACTIVITY

It is important to be social with people whose company you enjoy. Social engagement has been found to have benefits for other health factors related to cognitive functioning, such as vascular condition and depression. It is mentally stimulating and may contribute to building brain reserve, which then contributes to a lower dementia risk.

 

We would like to thank Alzheimer’s Australia for the use of this material. For more information go to the Your Brain Matters website www.yourbrainmatters.org.au or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.