June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn how you can maintain your brain – also called cognitive function – throughout your life.

It turns out your brain, like every part of your body, responds to healthy behaviors, according to Sam Downing, MD, Director of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Group (YRMG). Let’s take a look at seven ways you can love your brain.

  • Break a sweat – Regular cardiovascular exercise that raises your heart rate is at the top of every list to prevent or curb chronic disease. What you may not know is how regular exercise affects the brain. It starts with the four major arteries – two carotid and two vertebral – that supply the brain with oxygen and glucose.

“The aging process, lack of activity and other factors can threaten the ability of those arteries to nourish the brain with oxygen and glucose,” says Dr. Downing, who oversees YRMG’s Cognitive Assessment and Support Clinic as well as the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program. “Regular cardiovascular exercise – and it doesn’t need to be extremely vigorous – keeps blood flowing to the brain.”

  • Fuel up – A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat and sugar can reduce your risk of some forms of dementia. Staying hydrated is important, too. Experts recommend six to eight glasses of water every day, which is 48 to 64 ounces.
  • Stop smoking – If you smoke, there’s another reason to quit. Recent research suggests that people who light up well into their sixties are putting their brain health at risk.
  • Sleep well – Hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, can affect how your brain functions over time. The Cognitive Assessment and Support Clinic team often recommends sleep studies to measure oxygen levels during sleep as part of a comprehensive assessment.
  • Fill your social calendar – Research shows that getting together with friends, volunteering or attending enrichment classes can lower your risk for dementia, much the way physical activity helps prevent diabetes or heart disease. Even simple activities – walks with friends or board games with the grandkids – are good for your brain health.
  • Manage your risk factors – It’s important to manage any chronic health issues that impair circulation or affect your brain’s supply of oxygen and glucose.

“High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes or being overweight can increase your risk for cognitive impairment and dementia,” Dr. Downing says. “Mental health issues, like depression, also need to be addressed to protect your cognitive health.”

  • Protect your head – A serious fall that involves a head injury can be detrimental to older adults. That’s why YRMG’s cognitive assessment includes a functional evaluation to identify people at high-risk for falls and teach them ways to prevent such accidents.

Want to learn more? Check out our web community or call the Cognitive Assessment and Support Clinic (928-775-5567) or Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program (928-327-5504).