Your brain is a vital organ just like your heart, yet it’s common to assume that you don’t have control over what goes on above your neck. In fact, nearly 60 percent of people think Alzheimer’s, one form of cognitive decline, is just a natural part of getting older, according to a recent survey. Fortunately, that’s not true.
Address your mind today by adopting four key habits.
Move around. Walk. Dance. Play with the dog. Physical activity clears out a substance called amyloid, which is believed to accumulate and “gunk up” the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Amyloid starts building a decade—maybe even two—before symptoms start. A little physical activity is such a potent health player that active people have a 35 percent lower risk of mental decline than sedentary ones. A study published in the journal Neurology found that the better shape you are in early on, the better your brain will be in the future. (More-fit people had stronger brain abilities 25 years later than less-fit folks.)
Let your mind play. Thinking in a new or deeper way can help shore up your mental prowess (no fancy computer games or Sudoku puzzles needed!). This type of thinking isn’t difficult to do, but it’s easy to crowd out, says Chapman. Simply executing the same rush-rush routine day after day squanders your mental energy and cheats your brain out of making stronger, more essential connections.
Set up an ideal snoozing scenario. Shut-eye time is when your brain does its housekeeping. “It’s almost like there’s a janitor inside that cleans up some of the toxic by-products that may be a precursor to amyloid,” says Chapman.
Do right by your heart, and your brain will also benefit. All those healthy moves you’re making to keep your ticker in shape? Your brain loves them too. In other words, what’s good for your heart is good for your brain.