Category: Lifestyle Tips

5 Tips for Brain Health

The brain is an incredible organ filled with 100 billion neurons that seamlessly communicate, allowing you to complete tasks from breathing to critical problem solving. Amazingly, it only takes the brain around 1/10,000th of a second to identify a need and respond with the appropriate action.

According to the National Institute on Aging, “Brain health refers to the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind. It’s being able to draw on the strengths of your brain—information management, logic, judgement, perspective and wisdom.”

Essentially, brain health is all about taking care of your brain so that it is able to function at its highest potential.Taking good care of your brain is also an important part of reducing some of the risks aging poses to cognitive health. 

We sat down with Attending Neurologist and Director of the DENT Concussion Center, Dr. Jennifer McVige, who shared her top tips for brain health.

1.Use it or Lose It

“Your brain, just like any other muscle needs to be exercised,” said Dr. McVige, “To keep your brain functioning at its highest potential, you must exercise your brain as you would exercise your body.”

You can keep your brain sharp by participating in activities that require mental stimulation, such as reading, solving puzzles, even learning a foreign language. The best way to keep your brain young is to never stop learning new information.

“Staying cognitively fit will keep you more alert as you get older,” added Dr. McVige.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

A well-balanced diet, makes for a well-balanced brain. 

“If you put junk food into your body your brain will not work as effectively. Stay away from high sugar, high fat processed foods,” said Dr. McVige, “Try to eat clean.”

Some ‘brain foods’ include blueberries, wild salmon, dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, and dark chocolate.

3.  Physical Exercise

What’s good for the body is good for the brain!

“Regular physical exercise helps your brain work better,” said McVige. “It helps increase blood flow to the entire body, allowing us to process information better.”

4. Sleep

 Sleep is a vital part of staying mentally and physically healthy.

“A proper sleep regimen is important for adequate brain health. Sleep deprivation can cause difficulty with concentrating, create mood issues, and even cause headaches.”

5.  Be Conscious of Brain Injuries

“When in doubt sit out,” said Dr. McVige. “Your brain is a beautiful, complex organ with amazing healing powers, but if more injuries are sustained before the brain is fully recovered the healing process gets interrupted.”

Tips for Maintaining Healthy Sleep Habits

We sat down with Dr. Marc Frost, Attending Neurologist and Director of the DENT Sleep Center, who shared his tips for achieving and maintaining healthy sleep habits.

According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 3 American adults aren’t getting enough sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults 18–60 years of age, need at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

Why is sleep so important?

Getting a good night’s sleep is a vital part of staying physically and mentally healthy.

“Poor sleep can lead to an increased risk for multiple medical issues, in addition to feeling poorly the next day. Depending on the cause, poor sleep can increase your risk for heart attack, stroke and other medical issues, just as much as untreated high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and cigarette smoking.” said Dr. Frost.

Poor sleep can also increase the risk for anxiety, depression and other mood related conditions.

Tips for Sleeping Well:

Regular Exercise

Exercising is an important part of sleeping well. Regular exercise is a great way to maintain a healthy sleep cycle and comes with a number of added benefits. However, try exercising earlier in the day, so that you aren’t working out too close to bedtime because it could leave you feeling too wired to fall asleep.

Consistent Sleep Schedule

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is imperative to achieving healthy sleep habits. Sleep hours should follow a routine from day to day, time to bed and time to wake should be consistent, even on weekends.

Be Careful of Over the Counter Sleep Aids

Over the counter sleeping pills, with the exception of melatonin, need to be used carefully. They are simply antihistamines, and should not be used for prolonged periods of time.

Myth vs. Fact:

MYTH: Drinking alcohol before bed will help you sleep better.

FACT: While it is true that alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it is one of the most disruptive inhibitors to normal sleep. The sleep you get after drinking is very fragmented and unrefreshing. Alcohol use should be kept to at least several hours prior to bedtime.

Click here to learn more about our Sleep Center.

MS Fatigue and Tips for Management

Fatigue is a common symptom in Multiple Sclerosis patients, affecting around 80 percent of the patient population. There are three main types of MS Fatigue, ranging from basic tiredness and the feeling of needing sleep, to cognitive fatigue, which can affect thinking, to physical fatigue, which can manifest as a tiredness of the muscles.

“One way our team at DENT tries to combat fatigue is by recommending daily routine changes that may have a big impact,” said Katelyn McCormack, a Family Nurse Practitioner in the DENT Multiple Sclerosis Center. 

Lifestyle modifications can have a huge and positive impact on your Multiple Sclerosis fatigue. All the methods discussed can be used in helping to manage MS fatigue symptoms.

Physical or Occupational Therapy:

Different devices can be prescribed by your physician to help manage your physical fatigue by reducing the amount of energy it takes to complete certain tasks.

“Some patients may have weakness on one side, or trouble gripping, and we can prescribe different devices to help limit how much energy a task takes you,” said McCormack.

These methods can help to reduce the feeling of muscle tiredness that accompany physical fatigue.

Good Sleep Hygiene:

It’s very important to practice good sleep hygiene, which includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, for example going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day.

“Sleep improvement is a major way to combat fatigue,” said McCormack. “And it may not be that you’re not getting enough sleep, but that you’re not sleeping well. We use sleep studies to find the problem, or trying meditation to aid with sleep improvement. There are also vitamins available that can promote quality sleep.”

Sleep improvement can be achieved by minimizing poor sleep habits like staying up late and not keeping a consistent routine. It is also important to minimize artificial blue light exposure from electronic devices. Sleep is vastly underrated, and if quality of sleep isn’t there it can have serious negative ramifications and lead to worsening fatigue.

Exercise:

Exercise not only promotes healthy sleep hygiene, it also can also have a huge impact on managing your fatigue symptoms. There are many types of exercise you can try to find what works best for you. Alternative types of exercise include swimming, yoga, and water aerobics, all of which are great ways to get active.

“Stretching is a large component of managing fatigue. We advocate stretching in the morning and at night. Stretching can play a large role in relaxing your muscles and preparing your muscles for sleep and it plays a large role in minimizing spasms.” said Dr. Mazhari.

Another notable factor in managing fatigue is being aware of the role heat can play. Exposure to heat from either exercise of environmental factors can exacerbate fatigue symptoms. In order to reduce your exposure to heat your physician can prescribe cooling products, like cooling vests or scarves to aid in the cool down process. In addition, it is important to consider timing. For example it may be beneficial to take walks in the morning during the summer, rather than in the middle of the day when it is warmest out.

Vitamins:

“Data shows optimizing vitamins are so important.” said Dr. Mazhari. Vitamin D is often lacking in this area, so adding that to your vitamin regimen can have a large impact. Other vitamins like B12 and Biotin have been shown to make improvements as well.

Mood:

Depression can be a big part of MS. Some patients will notice that when their mood changes it can impact stamina, and what you feel like doing. Depression can be a hard topic to bring up, due in part to the stigma surrounding it, but it could be why you’re having fatigue. So don’t be afraid to mention those symptoms to your physicians.

Caffeine:

Over caffeinating can also be a contributing factor to an increase in fatigue. A cup of coffee in the morning is okay, but caffeine all day long can create issues. Our doctors recommend two cups of water of every cup of coffee.

Side Effects of Medicine:

Sometimes certain side effects of medicine can play a role in increasing your fatigue. However fixing this can be as simple as changing the time you take your medicine. It can also help to evaluate the current medicines you are taking to ensure that your medication is benefiting you and working cohesively to make you feel better.

As a reminder, before implementing any of these methods discuss them with your treating physician.

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