Dementia starts to appear in 10 million people every year, and the number of people with dementia is expected to increase, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. However, there are ways to improve brain health and prevent at least some of the complications that come with aging, dementia and similar conditions.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine wants to help patients learn more about the relationship between brain health and lifestyle through its Brain Health Initiative, established by clinics at the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the McKnight Brain Institute.
Dr. Sameera Davuluri, assistant professor and medical director of the Family Medicine Clinic at UAB Hoover Primary Care, offers advice on how to maintain brain health.
Eat a healthy diet
Diet is a significant component that affects health. Davuluri said certain diets good for the heart are good for the brain.
“There is not a single food which is key to the brain’s health, and there is no evidence that eating or avoiding a single specific food can prevent cognitive decline,” Davuluri said. “However, patients should focus on a combination of healthy foods throughout the lifespan to strengthen their mind and body.”
Following diets such as Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and a combination of the two called the MIND diet could help improve brain health. The MIND diet includes leafy green and other vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish once a week, poultry twice a week, beans, nuts and olive oil as a cooking fat. Moderate amounts of wine are permitted in both the Mediterranean and MIND diets.
Davuluri suggests remaining mindful of alcohol consumption, limiting pastries, processed foods, red meat, whole-fat dairy and salt. She also suggests eating fish because it is the strongest factor influencing higher cognitive function and slower decline.
“Diets high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for improving brain health by decreasing the risk factors, such as stroke and heart disease,” Davuluri said. “There are no vitamins or supplements that have been shown to prevent cognitive decline. Always talk to your primary care doctor, as certain conditions and vitamin deficiencies (B12 and folate) that can cause cognitive decline are reversible. It’s never too late to start a healthy diet and try to make small, practical, incremental changes that are sustainable.”
Talk to a primary care provider or visit Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2022 for more specific recommendations about daily alcohol intake.
Getting physical active can improve mental cognition. (Getty Images)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers have found that regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, not just for muscles and bones, but for the brain.
Davuluri said several studies linking aerobic physical activity to improved cognition.
“Most adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This can be broken down into 30 minutes per day, five days a week,” Davuluri said. “This does not have to happen in one stretch and happen only at a gym. Try to incorporate activities in your daily routine, such as walking your dog, being physically active while watching TV, etc.”
Be socially active
Engaging in social activities and community is good for brain health as well as mental health.
“Social activities can reduce isolation and improve well-being, which, in turn, improves cognition,” Davuluri said. “Keep up with your hobbies, try to learn something new, try to challenge yourself intellectually, such as solving crossword puzzles, learning a new language, etc. Get good sleep, have a daily routine and focus on a healthy diet.”
Take vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, available naturally in certain foods, fortified in others and as an over-the-counter supplement. When ultraviolet rays touch the skin, vitamin D is also produced within the body.
“Vitamin D mainly promotes calcium balance within the body and helps with strengthening the bones,” Davuluri said. “It also has other roles, such as reduction of inflammation, modulation of immune function, etc. At this time, there is not enough information available to find any correlation between vitamin D levels and brain health.”
This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.