In the past several newsletters, we have described several risk factors for Alzheimer’s as well as provided detail on the seven pillars for a brain-healthy lifestyle that are within your control. In prior months, The Choice Voice focused on the first five pillars and this month, we focus on the final two: Stress Management and Vascular Health.
- Regular exercise
- Social engagement
- Healthy diet
- Mental stimulation
- Quality sleep
- Stress management
- Vascular health
Pillar #6: Stress management
Chronic or persistent stress can take a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area, hampering nerve cell growth, and increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Yet simple stress management tools can minimize its harmful effects.
• Breathe! Quiet your stress response with deep, abdominal breathing. Restorative breathing is powerful, simple, and free!
• Schedule daily relaxation activities. Keeping stress under control requires regular effort. Learning relaxation techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga can help you unwind and reverse the damaging effects of stress.
• Nourish inner peace. Regular meditation, prayer, reflection, and religious practice may immunize you against the damaging effects of stress.
• Make fun a priority. All work and no play is not good for your stress levels or your brain. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
• Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress.
Pillar #7: Vascular health
There’s more and more evidence to indicate that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Maintaining your cardiovascular health can be crucial in lowering your risk for different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. And of course, addressing heart-health issues can also help you to lower your risk for a future heart attack or stroke.
• Control your blood pressure. Hypertension or high blood pressure is strongly associated with an increased risk of dementia. High blood pressure can damage tiny blood vessels in the parts of the brain responsible for cognition and memory. The latest American Heart Association guidelines class blood pressure readings of 130/80 mm Hg and above as the start of high blood pressure.
• Make healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Exercising, trimming your waistline, lowering your stress, and reducing your salt, caffeine, and alcohol intake can all help to lower your blood pressure. Try to cut back on takeout, canned, and processed food which tend to be high in sodium and replace them with fresh vegetables and fruit.
• Take any medication your doctor recommends. Research from Johns Hopkins found that those prescribed antihypertensive medication to control high blood pressure lowered their dementia risk by about a third.
• Don’t ignore low blood pressure. While it affects far fewer of us, low blood pressure (hypotension) can also reduce blood flow to the brain. While the American Heart Association offers no specific measurement for when blood pressure is considered too low, symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, and unsteadiness when standing may indicate a problem.
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: February 2020. https://www.helpguide.org/