January 9, 2017
6 Brain Health Habits from 6 Brain Health Experts
At HealthyBrains.org, we emphasize six pillars of brain health: exercise, mental fitness, good nutrition, sleep and relaxation, social interaction, and control of other health risks. Get motivated to improve your brain health in 2017 by trying these personal tips from our brain health scientists and experts at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health:
1) Exercise: “Go early, get variety and include friends”
Brain health experts agree that people who exercise 3-5 times a week may lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Staying motivated to exercise regularly, however, can be a challenge.
Our Clinical Rehabilitation Manager, Jen Nash, PT, DPT, NCS, says she exercises daily, early in the morning, doing a variety of different exercises, and often with friends or in classes. “I love to exercise early in the morning because things don’t get in the way and it sets me up for a successful day. After my workout, I feel awake, flexible, strong, and ready to give others my time.” As recommended by brain and heart health experts, Dr. Nash chooses to do a variety of types of exercises including swimming, cycling, strength training, and yoga. “Exercising with friends holds me accountable for showing up and variety helps keeps me challenged. I exercise regularly because I want to stay healthy so I can live the best life possible every day that I am given!”
2) Mental Fitness: “Challenge your mind with books”
As we age, it is important to continue to learn, embrace new activities and develop new interests that will help contribute to “brain reserve”.
Dylan Wint, MD, neurologist, psychiatrist, and our NV Energy Chair for Brain Health Education, says he stays mentally sharp by reading challenging books which are thought provoking and stretch his imagination. “Lately, I’ve been reading a historical fiction set in Europe during the late 17th century. It’s an entertaining way to learn about the religious, economic, and scientific “wars” of a particular time. I also enjoy contemplating the future by reading speculative fiction, which imagines what the near-future will be like with the widespread use of technologies that are currently or almost available.”
3) Food & Nutrition: “Add nutrients to every meal”
You are what you eat. Foods rich in antioxidants like those found in the Mediterranean diet may help reduce inflammation that injures the brain.
Jeffrey Cummings, MD, ScD, Director, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and renowned neuroscientist in Alzheimer’s research, starts his day with antioxidant rich foods and whole grains for breakfast. “I use dried fruit on my granola to help reach my daily fruit goal – dried blueberries are particularly good.” To help maintain his heart and brain health, Dr. Cummings regularly boosts his intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish several times a week. “Dover sole is my favorite.”
4) Sleep & Relaxation: “Practice mindfulness”
Sleep energizes you, improves your mood and immune system, and even reduces buildup of amyloid plaque, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Managing stress is an important component of brain health too.
Charles Bernick, MD, our Associate Medical Director, leads a very hectic day seeing many patients in the clinic and participants in his research studies. So, how does he wind down and get a good night’s sleep? “I run twice a day, which helps, but I have found that yoga and the practice of mindfulness at the end of the day promotes quality sleep.” Dr. Bernick sleeps about 6-8 hours every night and shuts down all electronics, including TV, a few hours before bed.
5) Social Interaction: “Make it a ritual”
Staying connected with family and friends is important for brain health. Studies show those with the most interaction within their community experience the slowest rate of memory decline.
Our staff psychologist, Donna Munic-Miller, PhD makes friendship part of her weekly routine. “I try and get together every Saturday morning with my friend of over 20 years for an hour or so to connect, to vent, to share, and to laugh.” Dr. Munic-Miller finds making time for friendship helps her relieve stress and improves her mood at work and at home.
6) Control Other Risks: “Involve your pet”
Controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, managing weight and curbing depression are essential to good brain health. Pets can positively affect our brain health by relieving anxiety, boosting immunity, improving our heart health, making us move and enhancing our social life.
Aaron Ritter, MD, neuropsychiatrist and our Director of Clinical Trials, encompasses many brain health benefits from walking his dogs. “I walk my dogs two times a day for a total of 2-3 miles. Having eager and dependent exercise partners ensures that I cannot skip days, even when I am tired or it’s hot. The exercise and meaningful companionship help keep me happy and healthy.”
Improve your own brain health this year by following our experts advice and learning more tips at HealthyBrains.org.