BRAIN HEALTH: HERE'S HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR BRAIN SO IT TAKES CARE OF YOU
JUNE 16, 2020 @ 8.20PM
When was the last time you paid any attention to your brain, and considered how its health could affect your daily life? Our brain is responsible for keeping our entire being in check, from cognitive responses, your taste receptors and even remembering your family members’ birthdays.
Brain health is just as crucial when it comes to our ability to think, act and live well as it is about reducing risk factors, keeping your mind active and getting the very best out of your brain as you get older.
In the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic, we are consciously and subconsciously building new habits. Along the way, we may face challenges that could lead to aggravating or increasing our risk in developing brain disorders such as migraines, stroke or even dementia.
Dr Kok Chin Yong, consultant neurologist at Sunway Medical Centre Velocity’s (SMCV), weighs in on this matter and strongly recommends practicing several steps, known as SEMMMS to prevent the development of brain diseases and to keep the brain at its peak condition.
1. Sleep is key
Human evolution has proven the crucial role of sleep by maintaining this basic life function. Many studies have shown that poor sleep can lead to or accelerate cognitive decline.
Two longitudinal follow-up studies done in Spain and Iceland have shown that elderly with insomnia are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and too little or too much sleep can trigger migraines.
Good sleep hygiene is key to a good night sleep. This includes avoiding light-emitting devices 1-2 hours before sleep; any other activities except sleep on the bed; caffeine after 3pm and large meals or high intensity exercises at night.
2. Exercise regularly
A physically active lifestyle has been proven to be good for brain health.
In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a strong recommendation for an active lifestyle which plays a beneficial role in reducing the risk of developing dementia.
Moreover, physical inactivity is a well-established and modifiable risk factor for stroke. Everyone should aim to have physical exercise for at least 40 minutes at a time, three times a week.
3. Get your medical illness under control
Elevated blood pressure is one of the strongest risk factors to develop a stroke, hence it is vital to get your blood pressure under control.
Uncontrolled hypertension will lead to changes in the small blood vessels of the brain, which in turn will put you at risk of both stroke and dementia later on.
Those with diabetes must be disciplined in their follow-ups and treatments as they are at high risk of developing hypertension and high cholesterol, both which require timely institution of medications.
4. Practice meditation
Meditation-based practices have been discovered to reduce the relapse rate in both depression and addiction.
The world-wide Covid-19 pandemic has increased the number of mental health issues, particularly those related to anxiety.
A recent study by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre has shown that meditation plays an important role in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
If practiced regularly, meditation helps to calm down one’s mind, reduce anxiety and help with stress reduction.
5. Adopt a MIND diet
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH for Neurodegenerative delay and is a hybrid of both the Mediterranean and DASH diet. It consists of green, leafy vegetables, whole grain, berries, olive oil, poultry and fish.
Epidemiological study has shown that this diet was able to slow brain aging by approximately 7.5 years and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Poor dietary habits such as high salt intake and low consumption of fruits and vegetables are leading modifiable behaviours that account for rising disability from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
6. Be socially active
A socially active person can lower their risk of developing dementia. Social interaction is not limited to face-to-face conversation but can also be done through phone conversations, emails or video calling.
The current pandemic climate should not limit our social interaction but encourage us to look at it in a new way. Many platforms enable more than just two participants at a time to hold conversations virtually, and it could be a good way to keep in touch with a group of friends to discuss common, enjoyable topics. Forming a good network of support can also help reduce depression and anxiety.
"In Malaysia, stroke is the third highest cause of death and there are two types: Ischaemic stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or reduced by a blood clot and a Haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when brain arteries rupture and cause bleeding," explains Dr Kok.
In any case, should you face common stroke symptoms such as balance difficulties, eyesight changes, face or arm weakness or speech difficulties, be sure to alert the people closest to you and contact a hospital or medical centre immediately.
Remember, every second counts and practice SEMMMS, and keep your brain healthy at all times!
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