Health & Fitness

Healthy Habits for Aging: Easy Ways to Build Better Brain Health

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It’s important to take care of your brain and your body. Consider these simple activities that’ll help keep you in shape and lower your risk of developing dementia.

Experts agree: healthy lifestyle habits really can lower your risk of developing dementia.

When incorporating healthy choices such as regular exercise, cognitive stimulation, a brain-healthy diet and not smoking, people have a much lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia compared to people who don’t.

“Diet and exercise are huge in the overall equation,” says Stephen Harris, vice president of clinical services and compliance at Gardant Management Solutions, which owns senior residential communities across the country.

At Gardant’s White Oaks of McHenry, a dedicated memory care facility in McHenry, a mixture of endurance, resistance and strength exercises has been known to increase brain power among residents, says Harris.

Whether or not dementia is impacting your family, here are some simple exercises you and your loved ones can do to continually stimulate your mind in pursuit of good health.

Bicep Curls

Sit in an armless chair, keeping your feet flat and even with your shoulders. Hold hand weights (1 to 5 pounds) at your sides with arms straight. Palms should be facing toward the body.

Slowly bend an elbow, lifting the weight toward your chest. Rotate your palm to face your shoulder while lifting weight.

Hold position 1 to 5 seconds and slowly lower your arm to starting position.
Repeat with other arm and alternate until you’ve done 8 to 15 lifts on each side. Rest and continue as many times as wanted.

Chair Stands

Place pillows against the back of a chair and sit in the middle with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.

Lean back on the pillows in a half-reclining position. Your back and shoulders should be kept straight.

Using your hands as little as possible, raise your upper body forward until sitting upright. Your back should no longer lean against the pillows.

Slowly stand up, trying not to use your hands.

Slowly sit back down, keeping your back and shoulders straight through the process.

Repeat 8 to 15 times; rest and repeat 8 to 15 times more.

Endurance Exercises

There are several ways to build greater endurance:
• Walking briskly with no incline. About 15 to 30 minutes of brisk walking three to four times a week will build your strength.
• Swimming is great for joints, as it provides a free-flow, low-impact environment for exercising.
• Gardening offers an enjoyable alternative to working out, because it involves lots of movement and can be as strenuous as you choose.
• Cycling on a stationary bicycle can be done while watching TV. About 15 to 30 minutes on the bicycle is the ideal length of time for increasing heart rate.

MIND Diet

Researchers from Rush University in Chicago have combined elements from two well-known diets to create a food plan that is mitigating the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease, Harris adds.

The diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet – which is high in fish, healthy fats, vegetables and whole grains – and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, which is heavy in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.

The result is the brain-healthy MIND diet, which has been found to be effective even if it’s not followed rigorously, according to the Rush University study. This diet reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53%, Harris says.

The MIND diet emphasizes green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. It eliminates red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food. Related research has found that blueberries and strawberries in particular offer benefits for your brain.

A typical day on the MIND diet might include three servings of whole grains, a salad plus one other vegetable, a glass of wine, nuts as a snack, blueberries or strawberries, chicken or fish, and beans (every other day).

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