Personal Training for the brain

It might be that you are one of the 30% of people who currently know someone suffering with dementia. If you are not, you may still be aware of it as a cruel disease - a progressive condition with no known cure and it can impact memory, language, clarity of thought and cause forgetfulness.

There are 850,000 people in the UK that are diagnosed with dementia and two out of three of those affected, are women. The condition can cause great fear and worry for family and carers, both emotional and financial.

However, what we often fail to acknowledge is that there are alternative ways to delay the early onset of dementia. According to research in the Lancet, 40% of dementia is preventable with structured lifestyle interventions. The brain is dynamic and can continue to actively transform over time, so we are able to grow new brain cells (neurogenesis) and new neural pathways (neuroplasticity).

By making some simple lifestyle changes, we can actually boost cognitive ability and strengthen our minds as a preventative measure to protect our brain. As you age, you may take extra care to look after your heart and body by going to the gym so why not treat your brain in the same way? Here are my 5 areas of focus for keeping the brain healthy.

Stay mentally and socially active - train your brain like a muscle. It is important to mentally challenge and stimulate your brain. We are so used to constantly switching focus between various tasks in our busy lives and this can be harmful to brain health. It is important to spend enough time exposing your brain to simple, social activities, such as reading a book, doing a crossword or meeting new people. You could also learn a new skill or take up a new hobby, even playing an instrument can help.

Exercise - exercise is just as good for the brain as it is your body. It boosts blood flow to the brain which delivers vital oxygen and growth hormone stimulation which helps create a positive environment for the growth of brain cells. Both cardio and strength training can boost brain health. One study showed that just 20 minutes of movement can facilitate information processing and memory function and muscle strengthening is also recommended as a weak hand grip is associated with increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Diet - sugar and saturated fat are bad news for brain health as well as our bodies. 60 percent of the brain is composed of fat and should be made from essential fatty acids including omega 3 and omega 6. If you want to boost your brain health choose a mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish. Try cutting down on meat and eat more plant based meals - eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and berries will also help delay cognitive decline.

Sleep hygiene - getting enough sleep is vitally important in keeping our brains active and healthy. A poor sleep pattern can impact your cognitive ability in the short-term, and there is now evidence to suggest reduced sleep can impact brain health over time. Routine and quality of sleep is important, so make sure you set a regular routine and avoid blue-light screens from your smart phones or laptops an hour before bed.

Meditation and mindfulness - studies show this can have a positive impact on brain health, and studies show long-term meditators had better preserved brains than non-mediators as they aged. Try using an app, even if you can only fit in 5 minutes in the morning or just before you drift off to sleep, quieting the mind can have more benefits than just brain health, it can also help reduce stress.
These interventions can all be very powerful in improving brain health. By making small improvements to your lifestyle and by treating your brain with care today, you can ensure you are giving yourself and your brain it’s best fighting chance against dementia.​

Dr Jamie Wilson is the founder and CEO of Hometouch – the platform that connects live-in carers with families.Today, he is on a mission to delay the progress of dementia, proactively helping people maintain brain health, and enabling the three million people in the UK with cognitive impairment have more active and fulfilling lives.