Maintaining Brain Health Is Important for Future Cognitive Function

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by Ray Burow |

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During the coronavirus pandemic, many people have posted on social media about their focus on good health via exercise. Turn on the news, and invariably at least one story will mention the importance of staying in shape while sheltering in place. But if given a nickel for every post about brain health, you’d have about 5 cents.

Combining physical exercise with activities that also encourage brain health is a better plan.

I recently chatted with Dr. Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, about taking care of the brain just as we do the rest of the body. According to the association, Snyder is responsible for the association’s progress in Alzheimer’s research funding, and leads its International Research Grant Program.

Having a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s helped shape her advocacy about the issue, she said.

“I think it’s influenced my overall passion and commitment to the cause,” she said. “I want my children to have a different future, and to live in a different world where we don’t have Alzheimer’s and other dementia. So, it’s certainly influenced my day-to-day commitment in moving the research forward.”

Snyder refers to the brain as the body’s control center, like how an engine relates to a car.

“It’s at the center of everything we do. You want to make sure that you’re taking care of your brain and doing the things to keep your brain healthy. That includes a number of different things,” Snyder said.

Altering from the norm is good for the brain.

The pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to stretch in ways we’ve never stretched before. Grandparents are connecting with grandkids via computer. Digital meetings are now second nature for some who previously had only met face-to-face in office settings. These types of changes enhance brain health, according to Snyder, who believes that learning new things is essential to the process of promoting brain health.

“Learning new things, participating in different kinds of social engagement, it might be virtual now. These may be ways of challenging yourself with some sort of virtual-social engagement, and [it] also may be with something physical. Putting those together in a way that’s going to benefit your brain and will keep your brain healthy [is important],” Snyder said.

We take brain health for granted.

We pay close attention to physical health as it relates to conditions that affect the heart. But we sometimes fail to acknowledge that our body’s systems are connected. The brain is connected to the heart, for instance, and knowing our numbers (blood pressure and cholesterol, for example) will benefit the brain. There is a definite connection between heart and cognitive health.

“There are studies that show a link between cardiovascular health and an individual’s risk for later life cognitive decline and dementia,” Snyder said. “Everything we do impacts our brain, but [it] also impacts our risk of cognitive decline.”

How to reduce the risk of cognitive decline

Currently, no medication totally eliminates the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. But there are things we can do until science catches up with the disease.

“What we do have are hints in the science that there are things we can do that may reduce our risk, that may help our brains [to] better … stave off those insults a little bit longer,” she said. “That’s really important because we know if we can slow the progression, or stop the progression, by five years, millions of people will not develop Alzheimer’s.”

An active brain is less vulnerable to disease-related changes. Staying physically active and socially and cognitively engaged help to keep the brain healthy. Learning about a new topic, perhaps even taking an online class, will engage the brain in such a way that it supports cognitive ability. So, let’s get to work!

How do you keep your brain engaged while sheltering in place? Please share in the comments below. 

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Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.

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