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National Brain Awareness Week – March 16th to 22nd

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Exercise your brain – small changes can help reduce chances of developing dementia

World Health Organization says reduced risk of dementia in “healthy people”
#loveyourbrain2020

This National Brain Awareness Week (March 16 to 22), the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, which is part of an ongoing initiative led by the HSE in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio, is encouraging everyone to make simple changes to help maintain brain health and reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Your brain is the largest muscle in your body and, while we can’t see it, we should remember to give it some love and attention. According to recently published guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) leading a healthy, active lifestyle can help maintain brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.

Although we can't do anything about some risk factors for dementia, such as our age or our genes, there are simple every day ways to help reduce your risk of developing the disease. It can also help those with dementia to live better with the condition. Proactive steps people can take include maintaining an active lifestyle, eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. Adopting these habits in early adulthood can play an important part in reducing risk, as well as developing good routines for life. 

Dr Suzanne Timmons, Clinical Lead for the National Dementia Office comments:

We have known for a number of years that people, who were more physically active, ate a Mediterranean type diet, didn’t smoke, and drank in moderation, were less likely to develop dementia. But the recent WHO guideline has added strong support to this, and particularly to the benefits of exercise, so we can now confidently advise people that exercise reduces the risk of dementia. We don’t yet know which type of exercise is best, but most likely this will be aerobic exercise - exercise that makes you a little out of breath. The good news is that the healthy lifestyle choices that reduce the risk of dementia also reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

The recommendations from the WHO include simple and practical lifestyle activities that can be incorporated into our daily lives.

Jacinta Dixon, who is diagnosed with dementia and a member of the Irish Dementia Working Group (IDWG) – an advocacy group for people living with dementia, says staying active has had positive impact on her life. “Exercise is critical to my mental and physical health; going to a class or for a run gives a structure to my day, it makes me feel good and it lifts my mood. The possibility of continuing to run makes me feel hopeful; it takes the focus away from what I cannot do and makes me think about what I can. When I exercise I don't feel like an old lady with dementia (which I am) rather I feel like I still have a life, I feel like me.”

Here are 6 simple ways to keep your brain healthy and help reduce your risk of dementia:

1.Get physically active

Physical activity is very important for brain health and exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. Every adult should aim to include 150 minutes of physical activity, such as brisk walking, in their week, this equates to a brisk, 30-minute walk, five days a week. A brisk walk should raise your heart rate but not leave you breathless.

2Quit smoking

Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of developing dementia (as well as reducing your risk of developing cancers and heart disease). It can be hard to quit, but if you stop smoking for 28 days, you’re five times more likely to stop for good. If you’re ready to quit, the HSE QUIT team are ready to help. For free support call 1800 201 203 or text them for free on 50100 and receive a call back, or visit www.quit.ie

3.Eat healthily

Eating a wide variety of nourishing foods provides the energy and nutrients you need to keep your brain healthy and may help reduce your risk of dementia. A balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, and fish, and is low in salt and sugar, is a good starting point. Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight during your lifetime, particularly in mid-life is also important; being more active and following a healthy diet can help this.

4. Watch your alcohol intake

Reducing alcohol consumption to low risk levels (i.e. no more 17 standard drinks a week for men or 11 standard drinks for women) is also important for body and brain. For more information on low risk drinking guidelines visit www.askaboutalcohol.ie, or call the HSE Alcohol Helpline at 1800 459 459.   

5Know your blood pressure

High blood pressure damages the blood vessels that supply the brain, and this in turn can damage brain cells. By controlling high blood pressure you may be able to reduce your risk of dementia. Healthy adults should check their blood pressure at least once a year

6Keep your brain activeand stay connected

Keeping your brain active and stimulated is very important for brain health. Everyday activities such playing cards or learning something new, all keep your brain active.

For further information about brain health and dementia, visit https://www.understandtogether.ie/about-dementia/what-is-dementia/brain-health/

If you are worried that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of dementia, it is a good idea to speak with your GP. You can also contact a dementia advisor by calling Freephone 1800 341 341 or visiting understandtogether.ie to find out more.

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