How many Sudoku games does it take to make sure you never forget where you put your keys? Can an app like Lumosity help prevent Alzheimer’s disease? We asked OhioHealth neurologist Geoffrey Eubank, MD, about brain health and what you can do to keep yours in shape.
What does it mean to have a healthy brain?
“Everything our brain helps us do – communicate, plan, make executive decisions – is intertwined,” says Eubank. “But when we talk about brain health, memory is the easiest for people to understand. None of our brains is perfect. We take in a lot of information and forget a lot of it, too. We make stuff up to fill in the blanks far more often than we realize. But, the goal with brain fitness is to preserve our normal cognitive abilities.”
What can you do to keep your brain healthy?
Eubank says most of what we know about brain health and memory loss comes from studies comparing people with dementia to peers with no symptoms of cognitive disorder, and really examining what makes them different. This is what they’ve found:
- Exercise: “If you only do one thing to help your cognition, it should be physical activity. Aim for at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week. We don’t really know why it works but lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and cardiovascular benefits that come from exercise may indirectly prevent injury to the brain. And, while you may not be using your cognitive functions to exercise, you are using a lot of your brain, which could translate to cognitive benefits.”
- Get educated: “While most people don’t choose to go to college to avoid dementia, there is a direct correlation that indicates higher education helps preserve brain health. The more education we have, the more we tend to be spared from memory loss.”
- Hang out with friends: “It’s challenging to demonstrate this correlation in a study, but those who are socially active tend to have better outcomes than those who are less so.”
- Eat well: “Food can be a factor, especially for those who already have dementia or think they may and want to delay the symptoms. Choosing colorful fruits and vegetables over meats, dairy and processed foods can help. Look for foods high in antioxidants and vitamin E. And while you might want to try a supplement, they don’t seem to be as effective as natural sources, like spinach.”
- Avoid tobacco and illicit substances: “Drugs, especially marijuana, can damage your cognitive behaviors over time. Alcohol is a mixed bag – some evidence supports the idea that moderate to low alcohol consumption may actually help your brain, but heavy use is never healthy.”
Do brain games really work?
“There isn’t any convincing evidence that brain games help cognitive outcomes. What we find is that you may get better at performing a specific task, for example, pattern recognition, but nobody has been able to show that it translates to any other activity you perform, like not getting lost when driving. You’re far better off reading a book, learning a new language or going to a community event.”
Is it ever too late?
“The brain is a wonderful organ, but at a certain point, all of us peak. For most people, it’s from adolescence through our 20s. Most of us maintain our abilities for a long time, but a slow, gradual decline sets in eventually. The goal is to make that slope so gradual that it is never an issue while we live. We can’t stop it, but with the right lifestyle we can make it feel like it’s stopped.”
If you are concerned about your brain health, visit OhioHealth.com to find a neurologist near you.