We are excited to recognize Brain Awareness Week from March 14 through March 20. Sponsored by The Dana Foundation, this campaign aims to increase awareness around brain health as well as highlight all the progress made in brain research. It’s also a perfect time to think about our own brain health and ways we can support it with little habits each day.
Our brains are incredibly complex organs so much so that we are still discovering new information about them, even after years of study and research. From understanding how we process large amounts of information to making sense of our dreams, our brains offer a seemingly endless fountain of curiosity and possibility.
Of course, with the complexity of the brain comes the complexity of the conditions and diseases that affect it. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a form of dementia that robs a person of their memory and severely affects their quality of life and oftentimes the entire support system surrounding the individual including their friends, families, and professional caregivers. To date, there have been amazing scientific advancements and milestones helping us to understand this disease and how it changes the brain, but unfortunately there is not a cure. However, research has shown that the brain changes associated with the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia occur many years before symptoms of memory loss. This insight into the brain’s health shows us the importance of promoting brain health as we age.
As we celebrate Brain Awareness Week, let’s think of ways we can be good to our brains and consider adopting a few of our recommended strategies to support the health of your brain today!
Eat a brain-healthy diet. Quite simply, a healthy diet can improve your health in a lot of ways, but it can also promote healthier brain function. According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are benefits to eating a diet low in saturated fat and full of dark-skinned fruits and vegetables, and leafy greens, such as kale and blueberries. Cold water fish and some nuts are good options, too. As research shows, eating sugary snacks and soda may reduce brain function so try to limit or replace those items with healthier alternatives.
Exercise daily (or at least try to). In addition to healthy eating, exercise offers countless benefits to our bodies, from helping to reduce depression to supporting our cardiovascular systems. The brain also benefits tremendously from exercise. With each heartbeat, our brains receive up to 20 percent of the blood flow, which brings oxygen and other nutrients to keep it going at an optimal level. Studies have also shown that the brains of older women with mild cognitive impairment who exercise regularly showed an increase in the size of their hippocampus, the part of the brain that acts as a filing system for new information or the place where new memories begin to form. Since those with mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.
Despite the benefits, finding the motivation to exercise can be a challenge. From busy schedules to the cost of pricey gym memberships, we find reasons to put off exercising. A good first step for those who aren’t sure how to start is to try a bunch of different ways of being active and finding one that works for your body and schedule so you can sustain it. Perhaps it’s walking, swimming or even dancing. The key is to start small and slowly with the goal of building the regimen up over time.
Be social and keep learning. Just as physical exercise strengthens the body, exercising the brain by remaining socially engaged and learning new things can actually support a healthy brain by building up its cognitive reserve. At Sunrise, we do this through one of our Live with Purpose signature programs: Live With Learning. Using a variety of activities including book clubs, discussion groups and even trivia, residents can engage in active recall which can support the building of new neural pathways. Cognitive stimulation can not only maintain brain health but also help older adults feel connected and engaged.
At Sunrise, we’re proud to celebrate healthy brains this week and all year long with a delicious, nutritious meals, toolkits, activities, and exercise in our communities, and several interesting and exciting resources thanks to our partnership with Total Brain Health.
This Brain Awareness Week, take some time to appreciate all the ways we can focus on having even healthier brains by fostering good habits today. Let’s all make an effort to be aware of all that we can do to support brain health not only during this important week but also during every week of the year!