Five ways to promote brain health, slow cognitive decline

As Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month in June wraps up, the Alzheimer's Association is encouraging all Americans to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors that can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

There are now more than 6 million Americans age 65 and older living with Alzheimer's, including 230,000 Illinois residents.

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. In fact, 1 in 3 seniors age 85 and older will have Alzheimer's disease. While some brain changes are inevitable as we age, there is a growing body of research to suggest adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors, including healthy eating, exercising regularly, not smoking and staying cognitively engaged may help us age healthier and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

"Understanding the role healthy behaviors may play in reducing cognitive decline is a robust area of research currently," said Delia Jervier, executive director of Alzheimer's Association's Illinois Chapter. "Researchers are working to determine what may be the optimal lifestyle 'recipe' to reduce cognitive decline, but there are steps we can take now to age well and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline."

The Alzheimer's Association offers these five tips to promote better brain health and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline:

Exercise regularly: Regular cardiovascular exercise helps increase blood flow to the body and brain, and there is strong evidence regular physical activity is linked to better memory and thinking.

Maintain a heart-healthy diet: Stick to a meal schedule full of fruits and vegetables to ensure a well-balanced diet. Some evidence suggests a healthful diet is linked to cognitive performance. The Mediterranean and DASH diets, which emphasize whole grains, green leafy vegetables, fish and berries, are linked to better cognitive functioning, and help reduce risk of heart disease as well.

Get proper sleep: Maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern benefits physical and psychological health, and helps clear waste from the brain. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a routine bedtime.

Stay socially and mentally active: Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Engage your mind by doing activities that stump you, like completing a jigsaw puzzle or playing strategy games. Or challenge yourself further by learning a new language or musical instrument.

Keep your heart healthy: Recent study shows strong evidence that a healthier heart is connected to a healthier brain. The study shows that aggressively treating high blood pressure in older adults can help reduce the development of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.

"Incorporating these behaviors become especially important as we age, but they are good guidelines to follow at any age," Jervier said. "Research suggests incorporating these behaviors in combination will have the greatest benefit, but even if you begin with one or two you're moving in the right direction."

To learn more about ways to reduce your risk of cognitive decline by making lifestyle changes, go to

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