With the dementia epidemic only increasing, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, Maree McCabe is reminding the community of the importance of looking after your physical and brain health to help reduce your risk of dementia.

Many people are not aware that modifiable lifestyle factors can impact on a person’s risk of developing dementia.

“We now know that being physically active, looking after our heart, and participating in mentally challenging activities may help to reduce our risk of dementia,” McCabe says. “In fact, research suggests that up to half the cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide are potentially attributable to health and lifestyle factors that we can change.”

Alzheimer’s Australia’s brain health program, Your Brain Matters, is an evidence-based program to guide people on what they can do to live a brain healthy life and reduce their risk of dementia.

McCabe notes that there are five simple steps a person can adopt to maximise their brain health and in turn, reduce their risk of dementia.

“Look after your heart, be physically active, challenge your brain, eat brain healthy food and enjoy social activity,” Ms McCabe said. “Now is a great time to set yourself some goals for the New Year – what better way to start than with a brain-healthy lifestyle.”

Follow these tips to start the New Year with a brain-healthy lifestyle:

1. Look after your heart – what’s good for your heart is good for your brain

The risk of developing dementia appears to increase as a result of conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels, particularly when these occur at mid-life. They include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Treatment of these conditions is necessary for good heart health and is likely to protect brain health. They are all conditions that are easily identified and treatable through regular health checks.

2. Be physically active – exercise gives the brain a healthy boost

Regular physical exercise is associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the growth of brain cells and connections between them. Follow the National Physical Activity Guidelines by building up to at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most (preferably all) days.

3. Mentally challenge your brain – the brain likes to tackle something it doesn’t know

Scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them. This helps to give the brain more “reserve” or “back up” so that it can cope better and keep working properly if any brain cells are damaged or die. The brain benefits by having to tackle something it doesn’t know. It could be learning a new language, taking up a new sport, doing a course in something you’ve always wanted to do – anything really, as long as it’s learning something new.

4. Follow a healthy diet – what you eat could affect the brain

Evidence suggests that a healthy, balanced diet may help in maintaining brain health and functionality but more research is needed to understand if there are specific foods that may be able to reduce the risk of dementia. Follow the National Dietary Guidelines by eating a variety of foods including vegetables, fruit, fish, grains, nuts, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), and lean meat. Reduce foods high in saturated fats including full fat dairy products, fried food and desserts.

5. Enjoy social activity – socialising is good for the brain

Social engagement has been found to have benefits for other health factors related to cognitive functioning such as vascular conditions and depression. It is mentally stimulating and may contribute to building brain reserve which then contributes to a lower dementia risk. Research suggests that social activities that involve mental activity and physical activity such as dancing and team sports for example, provide even greater benefit for brain health and reducing the risk of dementia.

What do you do to improve brain health? Play brain teasers, exercise and eat healthily? Let us know!