By Diane Caron, BSc. O.T. Reg. (ON)
Tri-County Mental Health Services
Let’s face it, we are all getting older. How can we age beautifully, and ensure that we can enjoy long physical and mental health? Their have been a lot of recent studies on the subject. Let’s review what the experts say on maintaining physical and mental health.
Some of the research has shown for years that a balanced diet and exercise can help people maintain their physical health which is a key component of healthy aging. People that exercise regularly are less likely to develop heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which are all risks factors for dementia. It is well documented that physical activity promotes brain health as well. Moderate activity promotes the circulation of blood to the brain, which nourishes the cells with nutrients and oxygen, and may even encourage the development of new cells. Activities such as a brisk walk or gentle exercises have been proven to promote physical fitness and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Check with your doctor or health care provider about the right kind of physical activity for you or if you have specific concerns.
There have been many recent studies that prove that mental workouts could be as important as physical exercise as we age. Research is showing that by using your brain, you increase its networks of connections. Crossword puzzles and memory exercises or any mental stimulation enhance brain activity and may help maintain brain health throughout life. Challenging your brain does not have to be complicated. For example, it can be as simple as dialing the phone with your less dominant hand. Sometimes all we need is to approach our daily routine in a new way.
We all know, stress is bad for us. Stress causes your body to release chemicals (Cortisol) that are damaging to the brain and other cells in the body when it persists over time. It can cause vascular changes and chemical imbalance that impact the brain. In reducing the harmful effects of stress on your body, you improve your mental health and brain health, decreasing the risk of developing dementia. Evidence also suggests that stress may contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. Depression and anxiety may be the result of chronic stress. Looking at your lifestyle to see what can be changed in your life might be a good place to start. Using relaxation, meditation or exercises may help reduce your stress. If things are out of control seek professional help.
Keeping your vascular risk factors well controlled is also important in maintaining brain health and preventing dementia. Having your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and weight well controlled are key factors in the long run. Some harmful habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol use can be detrimental on your health as well.
Prevention remains our best strategy to remain physically and mentally healthy as we get older. Small changes in our everyday life might make a big difference in aging beautifully.
For more information or to receive the French version of this article, or to seek professional advice, please call 613-932-9940 or 1-800-465-8061. Free, confidential services are available in French and English to residents of Dundas, Stormont and Glengarry through their offices in Winchester, Cornwall and Alexandria.
Keeping Health in Mind is a monthly newspaper column made possible with the help of Seaway News and the clinical staff of Tri-County Mental Health Services, a community program of the Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall.
By Diane Caron, BSc. O.T. Reg. (ON)