School may be out for summer, but that doesn’t mean our brains get a break. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so it’s a great time for people to make decisions that may benefit their cognition. While it’s true that scientists still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s Disease, many believe that making healthy choices may help with the aging process, including the function of the brain. Read on for some steps you can take to help care for your mind.  

  1. Tend to your overall health. It seems that people who live with health conditions impacting their heart and blood vessels (such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol) may face a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There are a number of lifestyle changes (which you’ll see below) that may help lower the risk for developing those diseases. If you have been diagnosed with one of those conditions, stay in contact with your doctor to manage the condition and alert your health care team to any changes. That’ll help your physical health and may also help protect your cognitive health.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a chronic disease that impacts one out of five children and two out of five adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Research shows that people who live with obesity are also more likely to have other chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. By maintaining a healthy weight, you’ll lower your risk for those diseases, and could also reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.
  3. Move your body. Physical activity is good for your overall health. Exercise burns calories, which can help with maintaining a healthy weight, and, according to the CDC, movement can also help improve thinking and reduce your risk of anxiety and depression. The U.S. guidelines on physical activity say that you should aim for 150 minute of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, along with two days of strength activities.
    Not sure where to begin? You might be surprised at what “counts” as physical activity: Things like mowing the lawn, raking leaves, taking a walk, dancing, yoga, digging in the backyard or garden, cleaning the house. You don’t have to break a sweat to be active (although it’s great if you do!). Just remember, if you’re not currently active, the guideline numbers are something to ease into after talking to your doctor.
  4. Limit how much alcohol you drink. People who drink beer, wine, liquor, cocktails or other alcoholic beverages regularly may be increasing their risk for a number of health challenges in the long term, including memory problems, dementia, mental health conditions, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and more. In the not-so-distant past, it was thought that a little alcohol was healthy, or at least not harmful. Now, health organizations such as the Mayo Clinic say that alcohol poses risks to your health when consumed in any amount. If you do drink, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend sticking with one drink or less per day for women and two or less for men.
  5. Protect your noggin. Head injuries have been linked to an increased risk for dementia. In many cases, head injuries can be prevented when you take the proper precautions. When playing contact sports or riding a bike or motorcycle, for example, wear a helmet. When riding in a motor vehicle, always wear a seatbelt. 
  6. Keep connected socially. An active social life doesn’t just improve your mood—it may actually improve brain health, among other things. According to the CDC, social isolation has been associated with a 50% increase in the risk of dementia. Take that to heart and reach out to friends and family regularly to meet up. In doing so, you may be helping their mental and physical health, too.
  7. Learn something new. Keeping your brain active is as important as keeping your body active. Finding new ways to challenge yourself is all part of the fun. Is there a language you’ve wanted to learn? Or a computer skill that might help you? Is there a destination you’ve wanted to discover? What about trying a new online game? There are endless options for learning, from formal classes to informal endeavors. Find something fun and stick with it!

Your brain is a beautiful thing. It holds old memories and new ones. It helps oversee your thoughts and emotions. And it truly makes you the unique person you are. This month, and every month, remember all that your brain does for you, and show it some love in return.