You are a baby boomer and you desire health and wellness throughout your senior years. You know that you need some sort of a plan, but how do you get started? I propose that you start at the top…the head…and focus on keeping your brain sharp. Although this focus has the added attraction of perhaps reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s (a HUGE bonus for starting here), you begin with the head because you need a brain that functions well in order to reach your goal of overall health and well-being. Also remember that medical research has linked cardiovascular problems to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, so things that are good for your heart will also be good for your brain.
Now grab a piece of paper and start to write your brain health and wellness plan down.
1. Assess your heart’s health – Write down the following conditions. Place a P beside each condition you do not have – you will take steps to prevent developing the condition. Place an A next to the conditions you have – you will take steps to address the condition.
* Heart disease
* High blood pressure
2. Find out some numbers that indicate heart and brain health. Write down the following and place your numbers beside each. Maintaining healthy numbers can improve brain performance. If any of your numbers are not in the healthy range, take steps to correct them.
* Cholesterol – needs to be less than 200 mg/dL
* Blood sugar – needs to be less than 100mg/dL (fasting)
* Blood pressure – needs to be less than 120/80
* Weight – compute your body mass index, BMI, to learn if your weight is in a healthy range. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight. The BMI formula is: weight / [height (in inches)]2 x 703. First change the height to inches and then square the results (5 feet five inches becomes 65 inches; then 65 x 65 = 4225.) If you weigh 140 pounds, this is the calculation: 140 / 4225 = 0.033136 and then .033136 x 703 = 23.295. Your BMI is 23.295.
3. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids – All of the foods listed below are good for the brain. Read the suggested foods and then write down four or five foods you need to eat less often and four or five you need to eat more often. Remember that a healthy diet avoids saturated fat and cholesterol while it includes:
* Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables – eggplant, red bell peppers, beets, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, red grapes, cherries, oranges, and all kinds of berries (blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and raspberries). Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidants and protect the brain from free radicals.
* Cold water fish – tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout, herring, salmon, sardines, and whitefish. With omega 3 fatty acids that are beneficial to cell membranes.
* Other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids – green leafy vegetables, avocados, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, canola oil, flax seed oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. Nuts also contain vitamin E, which is a potent antioxidant.
4. Exercise your body — Physical activity makes the heart pump faster and increases blood flow to the brain. This increased flow brings more nourishment to brain cells so that they function better. Any kind of exercise is acceptable as long as it is a moderate to vigorous activity, like brisk walking, yoga, biking, or gardening, and you do it for 30 minutes every day. Write down 2 or 3 kinds of exercise you want to try and the time you plan to exercise each day.
5. Exercise your brain – staying mentally active will generate new brain cells and connections (even in the older brain). Try new things: play mind games, do crossword or number puzzles, take a class, go to a play, read challenging articles and books, get a new hobby. Now get your paper, list 3 things you do to stay mentally active, and write down one new thing you will try.
6. Stay socially active – research has shown that the lonely, isolated individual is more likely to eventually develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. Stay plugged in to social activities like joining a club, seeing friends often, volunteering, traveling, etc. Grab your paper and write down one new way you will try to connect with other people socially.
7. Work to reduce stress – Learn a relaxation technique like meditation or yoga and perform it regularly. Grab your paper and write down which technique you will learn and the time you will set aside to practice the technique.
8. Stop unhealthy behavior – Substance abuse damages the brain and other systems in the body. Write down the following unhealthy behaviors. Place an A beside each behavior you do not participate in – you will continue to Avoid it. Place an E beside each behavior you take part in – you will take steps to Eliminate it.:
* Too much alcohol use
* Use of illegal drugs
* Abuse of prescription drugs
Take a look at your paper and you will see a workable plan for improving brain health. Remember that empowering the brain is very important if a baby boomer is going to achieve health and wellness. Follow the plan you have created. Change it when the need arises. You will find that you are on your way to health and wellness – baby boomer style.