Make Brain Health A Priority as Life Returns to Normal

Published: June 9, 2021

Make Brain Health A Priority as Life Returns to Normal

Many Americans are looking forward to resuming their lives and returning to normal this summer. This June, during Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging all Americans to make brain health an important part of their return to normal.

“The past year has been extremely challenging for most Americans,” said Beth Kallmyer, vice president, care and support, Alzheimer’s Association. “Chronic stress, like that experienced during the pandemic, can impact memory, mood and anxiety. As Americans begin to return to normal, we encourage them to make brain health a priority.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these five suggestions to promote brain health and to help Americans restore their mental well-being:

  1. Recommit to brain-healthy basics

Evidence suggests that healthy behaviors took a back seat for many Americans during the pandemic. Gym memberships were put on hiatus, social engagement became more challenging, and many Americans swapped out healthful eating for their favorite comfort foods.

Many experts agree that people can reduce the risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, preferably in combination, including:

  • Exercise — Get regular cardiovascular exercise.
  • Maintain a heart-healthy diet — Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are linked to better cognitive functioning.
  • Get proper sleep — Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and keep a routine bedtime.
  • Stay socially and mentally active — Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Do activities that stump you, like puzzles, playing strategy games, or even learning a new language.
  1. Return to normal at your own pace

One recent survey found that nearly half of adults feel uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions. For those feeling anxious, Kallmyer suggests taking small steps. It may also be important to set boundaries and communicate your preferences to others in your social circles.

“People need to be patient with themselves and with each other,” Kallmyer advises. “After a year like this one, the last thing you want to do is to create additional anxiety. COVID-19 infections are still occurring, so there is no need to rush things until the pandemic is truly behind us.”

  1. Help others

Research shows that helping others can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. Volunteer in your community, run errands or deliver meals to a home-bound senior, or donate to a favorite cause.

  1. Unplug and disconnect

Technology has dominated our daily lives during the pandemic like never before. While it kept us connected, it also created fatigue for many people. Experts warn that excessive stimulation coming from our phones, computers, social media sources and news reports can add to our already heightened anxiety levels. Limit your screen time, avoid carrying your phone everywhere, and disconnect from digital devices at bedtime.

  1. Control your stress before it controls you

Prolonged or repeated stress can wear down and damage the brain, leading to serious health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, memory loss and increased risk for dementia. Meditation, exercise, listening to music or returning to a favorite activity are just some ways to manage stress. Do what works best for you.

“COVID-19 has been overwhelming for all of us,” Kallmyer said. “It’s important for people to recognize there are steps they can take to lessen the stress and anxiety they are feeling. It’s easy to take brain health for granted, but more than ever, it’s a good idea to make it a priority.”

The Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 40 countries are working together to study the short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the brain and nervous system in people at different ages, and from different genetic backgrounds.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association