Five Tips to Improve Brain Health and Mental Health – Brain and Life Magazine

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“We can’t control our genetic risk factors for dementia, and we can’t control what happened to us in the past,” says Christopher M. Wilson, MD, senior medical director for specialty care with American Health Network in Indiana. “But we can control our physical activity, diets, social involvement, and how we use our brains. When we do that, we can stack the deck more in our favor for mental health and brain health.”
Here’s what he and other dementia specialists recommend.
Consider therapy. “Because of the stigma of mental disorders, people rarely come forward and seek treatment until they’ve suffered for too long,” says Liana Apostolova, MD, FAAN, professor of neurology, radiology, and medical and molecular genetics at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Get a referral from your primary care provider or health insurance company, ask family or friends for recommendations, or contact a local or national mental health organization, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. You can also check whether your company has an employee assistance program for mental health care.
Keep busy after you retire. “Have a plan for retirement,” Dr. Wilson advises. “The brain is like a muscle, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you just sit and watch TV, your brain isn’t going to function as well.” You could spend time volunteering with an organization related to your career or mentoring young people in your field.
Adopt a hobby. Think about what you enjoy, whether it’s cooking, gardening, bird-watching, singing in a choir, playing chess, painting, journaling, or knitting. “Learning or doing something that involves and engages you intellectually and emotionally seems to be beneficial,” says Sudha Seshadri, MD, FAAN, founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio in Texas.
Stay in touch with friends. Strengthen your relationships with family and friends and reconnect with people. Schedule a lunch with an old college friend, offer to take your grandchild to the movies, or plan a weekly coffee date with your spouse, child, or best friend.
Move your body. If you don’t currently exercise, start with walking or water aerobics, but also consider team sports, dancing, lifting weights, hiking, and swimming. Your local YMCA is a good place for exercise activities as well as community.

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