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How to Sustain a Healthy Brain

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By Catherine Taylor

As we live longer, the risk for cognitive decline does increase. And this has people worrying more than ever about their own risk for dementia and memory loss.  Indeed, the 2021 AARP Vital Voices Survey found that 93% of Rhode Islanders surveyed reported that staying mentally sharp is extremely or very important -- the number one health concern cited by respondents.

Fortunately, when it comes to brain health, we’re learning more about what really works – and the good news is that so much of it is in our control.

Join AARP Rhode Island on June 2 at 11 am at a free a Tele-Town Hall to learn about the latest brain health research and ask your questions.  Our guest will be Dr. Lindsay Chura, Chief Scientific Officer of the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), an independent collaborative convened by AARP. 

ACCESS THE RECORDING HERE

Partnering with AgeUK to expand its international reach, the GCBH gathers groups of top scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts from around the world to create scientific reviews with evidenced-based recommendations in understandable context. Since 2016, the GCBH has published reports (the latest, on “How To Sustain Healthy Behaviors”, was released in March) answering some of the most common questions people have about how to keep their brains healthy.

Based on current brain research, vetted by AARP’s GCBH and AARP’s Staying Sharp program, scientists have identified 6 Lifestyle Pillars that support brain health.

The first is Engage Your Brain, or learn new things. This doesn’t need to be academic learning. Just stimulate your brain by staying curious, pursuing new interests, and challenging your thinking. Some examples are reading, taking classes, learning a musical instrument or language, and practicing complex crafts.

The second pillar is Be Social, or stay socially engaged. Studies show that people with good social networks live longer and are physically and mentally stronger than those who are socially isolated. As the COVID-19 pandemic imposed limits on in-person social interactions, we found new virtual ways to be with family, friends, and our community, thus avoiding isolation.

We can keep those virtual connections going even as we finally get out and about. Managing Stress is the third pillar. Stress management includes regular exercise, smiling and laughing, distracting ourselves with music and reading, and spending time outdoors in green spaces. Other ways to manage stress are confiding in friends, quieting your mind, limiting screen time, and taking deep breaths.

The fourth pillar is Ongoing Exercise, which doesn’t have to be extensive.  Just get moving. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, which can be broken down to 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Walking for endurance is the easiest way to start, but you also can incorporate strength training, flexibility, and balance activities into your exercise routine.

Restorative Sleep, the fifth pillar, is essential to overall mental and physical health. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Sticking to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on the weekends, is recommended.  

The sixth pillar is Eating Right. What you eat has a big impact on your brain. A brain-healthy diet limits meat and sweets and emphasizes fish, nuts, beans, grains, leafy green vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil.

You’ll have the opportunity to learn more and ask your questions of Sarah Lenz Lock at AARP Rhode Island’s June Tele-Town Hall. Mark your calendar for 10 a.m., Thursday, June 2. The event is free for AARP members and non-members. Register at www.aarp.org/RIEvents.

I look forward to connecting with you!

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