As our population ages, brain health is at the forefront of healthcare. By 2031, annual health care costs for Canadians with dementia are projected to reach $16.6 billion, doubling from two decades earlier.
While almost 40% of people over age 65 experience some memory loss, only 1% of those develop dementia. Dementias, including Alzheimer's disease, are not a normal part of the aging process and several lifestyle behaviours are proven to improve brain health and function, slow cognitive decline and reduce risk of developing dementia.
Lifestyle Medicine Programs for Brain Health
Total Brain Health
Total Brain Health® is an evidence-based cognitive training program based on practices proven to sharpen cognitive skills, prevent age-related memory loss, and lower dementia risk. The program has been developed by Dr. Cynthia Green, world renowned brain health expert.
The program integrates body, mind and spirit with fun, experiential activities and the power of groups. Learn brain boosting practices that support a healthy brain and intellectual skills that can diminish with age. Suitable for anyone who wants a sharper memory and better knowledge of the lifestyle behaviours the promote brain health.
Minds in Motion
The Minds in Motion program combines physical activity, socialization and cognitive stimulation for people with early to moderate symptoms of dementia to attend with a family member or community friend. The program offers an environment to establish new friendships with others living similar experiences. Minds in Motion runs for two hours each week for 8 weeks.
Minds in Motion is delivered in partnership between the Wellness Institute and:
Stroke & Neurological Conditions
Stroke and neurological conditions can result in decreased balance, muscle strength and mobility. Personalized Neurological Physiotherapy and supervised group exercise Stroke & Neurofit programs can help address these challenges to improve quality of life.
Programs are for anyone with a history of a neurological condition that has resulted in physical limitations or those recovering after a stroke. Stroke & Neurofit participants must have completed their rehabilitation program after a stroke and be able to walk independently with or without a walking aide or be accompanied by an attendant.
Taking Charge of Your Brain Health
It's never too late or too early to make lifestyle changes for your brain health. As a leader in Lifestyle Medicine and a Certified Medical Fitness Facility, we know that your brain health is influenced by a number of lifestyle factors. Below, we've highlighted some behaviours shown to help brain function now and in the future.
For more about the proven lifestyle behaviours that have the biggest impact on wellness and quality of life now and over time, see our Wellness Ten.
Exercise improves blood flow and memory. Being active stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood and thinking. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
To gain the multiple benefits of exercise, we recommend 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days of the week, and resistance training twice per week. Balance and stretching exercise is also recommended.
Eating well can reduce the risk of stroke and dementia, as well as other health conditions that increase your risk of developing dementia. A nutritious, balanced diet helps maintain brain function and slows memory decline. Studies have shown that diets high in refined sugar are correlated with impaired brain function. Eat a balance of whole grains, protein, vegetables and fruit mainly from minimally-processed whole foods.
Talk to a Registered Dietitian for coaching or meal planning to help start a brain healthy diet.
In addition to other health risks related to smoking, your risk of developing dementia is 45% higher if you smoke. After just 14 days without smoking, your circulation (key to a healthy brain) improves. After a year smoke-free, your added risk of smoking-related stroke is cut in half.
Stress immediately interferes with cognition, attention, and memory as your body shifts into survival mode. Chronic stress has been lined to a shrinking of the area of your brain used for memory and learning. It can increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, worsen headaches, and contribute to conditions that increase your risk of dementia.
Healthy coping skills can minimize the impact on your health. Mindful practices, such as yoga, can help. For personalized support to build stress management strategies and coping skills, our Mental Health Team can help.
Learn, Train & Discover
Training your brain with word and number puzzles may help with memory, attention and reasoning, according to some studies. Timed games (such as Boggle), focus on challenging thinking skills that typically slow down with age. Learn new skills, discover new experiences and read for more ways to stay sharp.
Studies show that people with the most social interaction in their community show the slowest rate of memory decline. Social support is key to our emotional health and resilience. Creating or nurturing connections with other people who you like and who care about you acts as a buffer against stress and loneliness.
Get Your Hearing Checked
Hearing loss has been linked to cognitive decline. Even mild hearing loss can double your risk for dementia. People with severe hearing loss may have five times the normal risk. Get your hearing checked regularly as you age.
Manage Existing Health Issues
High blood pressure, cholesterol, excess weight and uncontrolled blood sugars all increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's. Many mental health conditions, including bipolar, major depression and schizophrenia are associated with greater risk of developing dementia.
See your doctor or healthcare provider regularly for preventative check-ups and to make sure you are managing any existing conditions well. Take medications as prescribed. The Wellness Institute can help with programs for managing chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and mental health.