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Keeping the brain healthy and active

Let’s hope during these trying times that people take care of their brains as well as their bodies.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. With Father’s Day just around the corner, the Alzheimer’s Association is sharing 10 Ways to Love Your Brain to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia and provide tips for loved ones.

More than 5 million people in the United States — including 190,000 Michiganders — are living with Alzheimer’s disease. The sixth-leading cause of death and the only leading disease without a prevention, treatment or cure, Alzheimer’s kills more Americans every year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

When possible, combine these habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body —

— Break a sweat: Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates the heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

— Hit the books: Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.

— Butt out: Evidence shows smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.

— Follow your heart: Risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — can negatively affect cognitive health.

— Head’s up: Brain injury can raise risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike and take steps to prevent falls.

— Fuel up right: Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH — Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — may contribute to risk reduction.

— Catch some ZZZs: Not getting enough sleep due to conditions such as insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

— Take care of mental health: Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline. Those who have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns should seek medical treatment. Also, try to manage stress.

— Stump yourself: Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that foster strategic thinking. Challenging the mind may have short- and long-term benefits for the brain.

— Buddy up: Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue meaningful social activities. Find ways to be part of the community. Love animals? Consider volunteering at a local shelter. Enjoy singing? Join a local choir or help at an afterschool program. Or just share activities with friends and family.

“Facing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is challenging for families even under the best of circumstances but these ten ways to love your brain can help,” said Jean Barnas, Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter programs services director. “Additionally, we are here for all Michigan residents for more information and support.”

To learn more, go to alz.org/gmc or call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

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