Brain health basics
Your brain is incredible. It controls your movement, emotions and stores your precious memories.
It takes care of the small things too, like helping you find your keys in the morning.
Sadly, the physical diseases that cause dementia – like Alzheimer’s disease – can take all of this away.
The good news is you can take steps to keep your brain healthy, just as you can improve other parts of your physical health. And the more physically fit your brain is, the harder it can be for these diseases to take hold.
If that’s news to you, you’re not alone – only a third of people in the UK realise that it’s possible to reduce their dementia risk.
But when you can’t see your brain, how do know if or how you should be doing more to protect it?
Our Chief Medical Officer, Prof Jon Schott, says the ways to help keep your brain healthy can be broken down into three groups – things you do to look after your heart, stay mentally sharp, and maintain connections with loved ones and the world around you.
“It’s never too early and never too late to start thinking about your brain health” adds Prof Schott, “but research suggests that making positive changes in your forties and fifties may be particularly important."
This is because changes in the brain associated with dementia start many years before we see symptoms. So efforts to reduce risk are likely to have the biggest impact in midlife.
There’s no sure-fire way to prevent dementia yet because age and genetics also play a role, but taking care of your brain will help stack the odds in your favour.
Three simple rules
It's time we started to protect our brains and all the amazing things they do. Get started with our three simple rules.
Through research, we’ve learnt a lot about the things that increase our risk of developing dementia. Some of these, like our age and genetics, we can’t change.
But evidence suggests that up to 40% of all cases of dementia are linked to factors we may be able to influence ourselves.
Here are our three simple rules for looking after your brain:
Love your heart
What’s good for your heart is good for your brain!
You probably know that cutting out smoking, being physically active and eating a balanced diet will help lower your risk of heart disease – but very few people realise you’ll be helping reduce your risk of dementia too.
Giving your heart some love shouldn’t mean crash diets or running a marathon every weekend, but simple positive changes that you can build upon and that you enjoy.
Several studies, including one important project in Sweden that followed 800 women over 44 years, suggest that mental activity – as well as physical activity – in midlife could help protect brain health in later life.
Researchers think that mental activity helps to build your ‘cognitive reserve’. This is your brain’s ability to cope and keep working, even in the face of damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s.
And the most effective mental workout out there? The truth is, there isn’t one specific activity that’s proven to be most helpful. So regularly doing things you enjoy is key.
Research points to social activity being the third piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping your brain healthy.
The latest evidence suggests that social isolation is linked to an increased risk of dementia.
And we know that being socially active can help us feel happier, healthier and more positive in general. Whether that’s picking up the phone, meeting friends for a coffee, joining community groups, or jumping onto Zoom for a catch-up.
"I keep my brain ticking over by meeting friends and family every Saturday for a parkrun and a coffee and catch-up afterwards. "