Brain & Spine

Lifestyle Tips to Improve Cognitive Health

Dr. Marla Bruns gives us 5 key lifestyle habits that you can do to help reduce your risk of cognitive decline.

Dec. 4, 2020 3   min read

Cognitive health tips

As we get older, it’s common to experience some decline in cognitive function. While some deterioration of memory or cognition is expected with age, ongoing research is providing evidence that certain lifestyle changes can significantly contribute to improved cognitive health and reduced risk of decline and dementia. With no treatments currently available to effectively reverse dementia, prevention plays a critical role in maintaining cognitive health.

Marla Bruns, MD, PhD and cognitive neurologist and co-director of Rochester Regional Health’s Memory Center at Unity Hospital, talks about five key lifestyle habits that you can do to help reduce your risk of cognitive decline.

1. Get Physical

Regular cardiovascular exercise elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Dr. Bruns recommends developing a physical activity plan with a health professional that meets or exceeds 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week to maintain physical and functional health.

“There is evidence that physical activity may help improve or maintain memory function even after memory problems have begun,” says Dr. Bruns.

Examples include:

  • walking
  • biking
  • swimming
  • chair aerobics
  • ballroom dancing
  • housework
  • gardening

Dr. Bruns also recommends strength training and performing balance exercises to decrease the risk of falling.

2. Challenge your Brain

Focused memory training may help maintain memory function before or after memory problems develop.

 “The aging brain can accumulate Alzheimer’s changes, but if you’re stimulating your brain and strengthening it like a muscle, you may be better able to tolerate those changes,” she says. This is called building up your ‘cognitive reserve.’

Some ideas that Dr. Bruns recommends to increase your cognitive reserve are:

  • crossword puzzles
  • sudoku puzzles
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • reading and writing
  • learning new languages
  • exploring new hobbies & interests
  • playing games
  • taking adult education courses

3. Be Social

Research suggests that people with larger social networks may have less mental decline, and people who have more social activities in their life may have a lower risk of developing dementia.

“Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss.” Dr. Bruns recommends volunteering, joining a book club, sports league, senior center, religious or spiritual group, or a club or social activity.

 4. Eat Healthy

“Generally, foods that are healthy for the heart are healthy for the brain,” explains Dr. Bruns. “Some studies have shown that people who follow a Mediterranean diet may have less loss of memory even if they already have memory problems.”

She suggests a diet high in:

  • fresh fruits & vegetables
  • whole grains including cereals and breads
  • legumes (beans)
  • nuts
  • fish
  • olive oils

The Mediterranean Diet limits saturated fats such as those found in full-fat dairy products, butter, margarine and red meats. It is also low in hydrogenated oils (trans-fatty acids), added salts, and added sugars.

5. Get More Rest

Insufficient or interrupted sleep due to insomnia, stress or sleep apnea may also contribute to memory impairment and cognitive problems. “A good night’s sleep is crucial for high-level problem solving and innovative thinking.”

The CDC recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night to maximize overall health and wellness. Dr. Bruns suggests trying to allow yourself proper and complete rest or seeking medical support to help manage stress or insomnia. 

NEXT STEPS The Memory Center at Unity Hospital

If you or someone you know is experiencing memory loss that is affecting their daily lives, call the Memory Center at (585) 723-7972.

Visit the Memory Center
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