There is no time like the present. How we treat our brain now will ultimately determine how well it ages and whether or not we are at risk for dementia or stroke. So how do protect your brain from cognitive decline, you may ask? Well, one of the best ways to cut your risk is through lifestyle changes.
Two University of Michigan neurologists offer 10 tips for modifying those risks.
1. Keep blood pressure in check.
Dr. Judith Heidebrink, a neurologist who is co-leader of the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center’s Clinical Core, recommends aiming for a systolic blood pressure (the upper number) of 130 mm Hg or lower from around age 40. This helps reduce the risk of cognitive impairment, dementia, heart attack and stroke.
2. Guard your hearing.
Wear ear protection around excessive noise to reduce the risk of hearing loss, center director Dr. Henry Paulson urged. Use hearing aids, if needed. A recent study found that older adults who got a hearing aid for their newly diagnosed hearing loss had a lower risk of dementia in the following three years, he pointed out.
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3. Support efforts to reduce air pollution.
“There is growing evidence linking air pollution — such as the gases and small particles emitted by cars and factories — to cognitive decline and dementia,” Heidebrink shares. “Encouragingly, sustained improvements in air quality appear to reduce the risk of dementia.”
4. Prevent head injuries.
Wear proper gear when playing contact sports, including a helmet while biking. Don’t forget to use a seat belt in cars. Head injury can disrupt normal brain function. See a doctor right away if you think you have a concussion or traumatic brain injury.
5. Don’t smoke or drink to excess.
If you do smoke, quit, even if it’s later in life. And limit alcohol use. “It has long been known that alcohol misuse is associated with damage to the brain and an increased risk of dementia,” Heidebrink adds. “Limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day appears safest.”
6. Stay mentally engaged.
Find something you enjoy, whether that’s taking a class locally or online, challenging your mind with puzzles and games, or starting a new hobby.
Keeping up with friends and family is also helpful, Paulson says. Be social or choose a social activity that is