When it comes to health, we rarely stop to think about how our daily behaviour affects our brains.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, more than 500,000 Canadians live with some form of dementia today. More than 60 per cent of them have Alzheimer’s disease. So when Community Care East York held its Healthy Brains clinic at the S. Walter Stewart library branch, the focus was on prevention.
“We want to focus on the proactive part of wellness. On what you can do to prevent these things,” said Diane Sanborn, a health promotion nurse with Community Care. “We’re all about health promotion and disease prevention. Starting at any age, to look at these things is a really great way to avoid a lot of problems down the road.”
They focused on a few simple lifestyle behaviours that, when changed, can have a profound effect on your brain’s long-term health.
“Eating certain healthy foods is supposed to help brain power and brain health,” Sanborn said. “Anything, everything with Omega 3. We can safely say that now after years and years of research. Your salmon, cold water fish, many of the white fish are really good for you.”
She went on to explain how saturated fats and processed foods, including sugars, rob our bodies of necessary nutrients.
According to Sanborn, before 1945, the average North American diet included of two pounds of sugar per year. Today the average person consumes 146 pounds of sugar per year.
“We know those levels of intake of sugar have gone up over the years, and so have cancer rates and Type 2 diabetes,” Sanborn said.
She explained that by filling up on processed foods, we are not eating the fresh food our bodies need to function. She emphasized the importance of reading labels when at the grocery store so you know what you are eating.
Community Care also emphasized the importance of being highly social.
“Research over the last 20 years looks at the person who is cognitively fit, dementia-free well into their 80s and 90s,” Sanborn explained. “What does that person look like, what does their lifestyle look like? A lot of times that person is socially engaged everyday. They’re not in their apartment or their house watching TV all afternoon, that’s for sure. They are out meeting people.”
Other important health tips include brain exercises, such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Exercising your body also plays an important role in cognitive health, she said.
For Monica Christie, who is retired, keeping active and healthy is a major focus in her life. She runs every morning, watches what she eats, is very social and also enjoys a daily crossword puzzle.
“I’ve always been interested in health issues,” she said. “I take care of me.”
Those people who have suffered past brain trauma or are smokers need to be extra cautious, and it’s suggested that you start getting annual check-ups in your mid-30s.
Also on the list are being creative, keeping your blood pressure low and dealing with stress in a healthy way.