Well Women Care
Boost Your Brain Health
May is National Mental Health month, and a good time to look at ways to improve your brain health.
The physical changes within the brain that eventually lead to Alzheimer’s can actually start occurring decades before the disease manifests itself, but there are steps you can take now to guard against these changes. It is important to note that women are especially at risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Of the 5.3 million Americans age 65 and older who suffer from Alzheimer’s, 3.3 million of them are women. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases, but people can also suffer from dementia that is not due to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain which block nerve signals and lead to the death of brain cells. Other forms of dementia (by definition a cognitive decline severe enough to interfere with daily life) can be triggered by uncontrolled high blood pressure, medication side effects, brain injury and genetics. Some of these types of dementia can be reversed with treatment, but others, including Alzheimer’s, cannot, at this time, be fixed.
Following are some steps that you can take now to stimulate your brain and help keep it vital.
According to the medical journal Neurology, physical activity helps clear out a substance called amyloid which is the major culprit behind the “gunking up” of the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Amyloid can start collecting decades in advance of symptoms of the disease. The good news is that physical activity can lower amyloid. In fact, it is the only thing that can. People who exercise have a 35 percent lower risk of cognitive decline than sedentary people. The better shape you are in in middle age, the stronger and sharper you will be in your senior years.
* Move it! Aim for 30 minutes or more of physical exercise that gets your blood pumping. Walk, run, dance, do aerobics, bike–anything that gets your heart rate up is good.
* Put on some muscle. Just two sessions of strength or resistance training each week will help your body build and maintain muscle. Muscle keeps your metabolism higher which is good for your body’s overall health and fitness.
* Keep active. Weave activity into all parts of your day. Park some distance from the office and walk. Walk to do errands. Take the stairs. Stand while making phone calls. Get up and move as much as possible.
Let Your Mind Create & Play
Your brain likes to learn and challenge itself in new ways. Thinking in a new or deeper way can help boost your brain power and makes new and stronger neurological connections. This way, if existing connections weaken or start to clog, the brain can turn to these newer connections. Thinking in a new way is not hard to do, but we tend to forget to make time for creativity and stimulation. For most people, days are too hectic or we are too bound by our routines. However, making time for challenge and fun is key to brain health.
* Challenge your brain. Sign up for a class where you learn something new. Being enrolled will make you more likely to attend. It might be a new language, a craft, genealogy, or photography.
* Engage in music. Neurologists have found that music has a profound and positive impact on the brain. Dancing and listening to music is great, but singing or playing music is even better. If you once played an instrument or sang in a choir, now is a great time to get back into it. If not, it’s never too late to try! Even learning a simple instrument yields great brain benefits.
* Let creativity flow. Try drawing or painting, scrapbooking or sewing.
* Join the discussion. Having a dynamic conversation about different topics makes your brain think in different ways. Join a book club or similar group. Online searches will show discussion groups for every taste, from movies to opera.
* Try something new every day. This may seem like a lot, but even small things give the brain a helpful tweak. Try a new route for your walk, eat a new food, read a new author, listen to a different radio station. If every day is too much, try something new every other or every week.
* Let your mind rest. Just as challenging your brain is good, so is giving it time to rest. When your mind has time to relax and run free, you are often better able to resolve challenges or be creative when you later return to “work mode.” Take a walk, meditate, do yoga–give your mind some downtime every day.
The Power of Sleep
Neurologists at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City have found that getting a good night’s sleep is critical to the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Sleep is when the brain “does its housekeeping,” they state, and some of the toxic byproducts that seem to be precursors to amyloid buildup are literally swept away by a good night’s rest.
To ensure that you get a good night’s sleep, try the following:
* Make sure you are sleeping in a cool, dark room.
* Banish screens from your bedroom. The blue light produced by TVs, cell phones, tablets and computers keeps you from producing melatonin, the sleep hormone.
* Stick to a sleep routine–try to go to bed and get up at the same time.
* Create a wind-down ritual that signals your body that it is time for bed. Power down electronics one to two hours before, have a bath, maybe some warm milk, read something peaceful, then snooze.
* Make sleep a priority–7 to 9 hours is recommended.
Eat a Heart Healthy Diet
The Alzheimer’s Association has found that eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet, can aid in reducing cognitive decline. Enjoy whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts. Cook with olive oil and reduce your intake of red meat.
Get Your Numbers Checked
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s are similar to those for heart disease, so make sure to have your cholesterol and blood sugar checked, and be screened for hypertension. Your doctor can work with you to design a diet and exercise plan to get your numbers down to an ideal range. Obesity can also increase your risk for Alzheimer’s so ask your doctor what is a healthy weight for you.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s, current research and treatment, and other things you can do to protect yourself, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.
You Are Having A Baby
Congratulations! You are having a baby! While the arrival of a baby is a joyous occasion, it can also be a tiring one for a new mom. Following are some simple tips on how to prepare.
No matter how easily the delivery goes, most new moms find those first few weeks at home very tiring. Hormonal changes, the physical challenge of delivery, and the demands of a newborn on sleep time can all take their toll. Having a “support system” in place can make this hectic time go more smoothly, and allow you time to recuperate faster.
* Mid-pregnancy, start lining up friends and family members who might be able to help with running errands, preparing a few meals, or watching the newborn so you can rest. Knowing that you have support in place can ease some of the stress of those first few weeks at home.
* As your due date nears, cook and freeze meals that can easily be popped in the oven or microwave for quick dinners. Get your spouse or partner to help!
* Make caring for the baby a partnership. Granted, your spouse cannot nurse (if you are breastfeeding) but diaper changes, bed, bathtime and naptime help, or help with housework can all be shared.
* Get as much rest as you can before the baby comes. You cannot stockpile sleep, but if you are well rested before the baby arrives, you will be better able to handle the days ahead.
* Get in as good shape as you can before the baby arrives. Unless your pregnancy has complications, even women in the later stages of pregnancy can participate in some activities, such as walking. Exercise will help you sleep better, help ensure an easier delivery, and keep your metabolism in good shape. Exercise also releases endorphins, the “good mood” hormones.
* Get your nursery well stocked with diapers and other baby supplies to avoid last minute trips to the store.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.