Information and activities are plentiful for those who want to work towards a healthier body. What about a healthy brain? Once we’re adults are we destined to become less mentally sharp, or is there a way to maintain or even improve one’s brain health?

The brain has an amazing ability called “neuroplasticity” which allows it to continue to change and grow by forming new neural connections throughout life. Although genetics sometimes plays a role in Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, research suggests that individuals can cultivate better brain health through their actions, activities and choices.

Here are six different routes to explore in the evolving study of the brain and its care.

1. Heart health. Some of the strongest evidence for maintaining brain health is related to having a healthy heart. The brain’s cells are constantly nourished by food and oxygen carried in the blood, pumped by the heart. If that system is compromised, the brain may be negatively affected. The following conditions can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and high cholesterol.

2. Nutrition. The brain likes to be well fed. Evidence suggests that while some foods are bad for the brain, others nourish it. For better brain health, it may be beneficial to reduce “brain unhealthy” foods and increase “brain healthy” foods. Brain healthy foods include a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as foods that contain Omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, folic acid and anti-oxidants. Brain unhealthy foods include meat and some oils.

3. Physical activity. Exercise doesn’t just build muscle and work the heart; it can create entirely new brain cells. A MacArthur Foundation study shows that older adults who engage in cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes a day perform better on cognitive function tests. In fact, daily physical activity may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia even in adults over 80.

4. Social engagement. Studies have shown that keeping active socially can prevent against cognitive decline. Whether active in a workplace, through community groups and causes, social interest groups or travel, people who stimulate the mind through interactions with others help to keep the brain healthy.

5. Cognitive engagement. Use it or lose it? Recent evidence says: use it! Lifelong learning can help the brain stay healthy and even prevent the accumulation in the brain of harmful proteins that cause Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a 2012 study funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association. Reading, writing, taking classes, doing puzzles, playing challenging games and watching foreign films are just a few of the many ways to promote mental engagement and a healthy brain.

6. Stress Management. There will always be bumps, bruises, and losses in life, but getting overly stressed about them is bad for the brain. Chronic stress and the hormones caused by it appear to speed up the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, and quickly. Stress management, then, is an important tool. Activities that reduce stress include tai chi, meditation, yoga, and swimming. In addition, there are some healthy behaviors that are good for the brain and can help reduce stress. These include: eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, participating in daily physical activity, getting enough sleep, and keeping any alcohol consumption at small or moderate amounts.

Cognitive decline is not an inevitable part of aging. As we reveal more about the human brain, we uncover more ways to take care of this remarkable, changeable part of the human body.

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