Keeping an active mind and body is crucial to helping you continue to get the best out of life.

“If we enter old age with better developed, healthier brains, we are likely to live longer, happier and more independent lives, with a reduced chance of developing dementia,” says Alzheimers New Zealand chief executive Catherine Hall.

“Living a healthy lifestyle, keeping our brains active and remaining socially engaged can help keep our brains healthy. These are of great benefit too for people who have or are showing signs of dementia, as they may help to slow the progression of their dementia.”

Social engagement and activities

Social engagement is also beneficial to brain health because it stimulates our brain reserves, helping to reduce the risk of developing dementia and depression. Remaining socially engaged and an active part of the community is important for people with dementia, so try and make time for friends and family. You can even combine your social activities with physical and mental exercise through sport or other hobbies.

Activities that help to keep the brain active include:

  • reading
  • listening to the radio
  • visiting museums
  • taking a course in something you’ve always wanted to learn
  • learning a new language
  • playing musical instruments
  • artistic and other hobbies
  • participation in leisure activities, such as sports, hobbies, dancing, gardening, shared interest groups, cultural activities
  • conversation
  • board games
  • crosswords
  • puzzles like Sudoku.

Mental exercise can and should be fun. Almost any type of mental activity you do can help, but try to keep it varied, interesting, and do it as much as possible.

Exercise and diet

Along with keeping an active and social mind, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating well can significantly contribute to brain health. Keeping active and involved in social activities can help to manage the symptoms of dementia. So, rather than giving up the things you love to do, see if they can be modified to suit your abilities.

Thirty minutes of gentle exercise such as brisk walking five days a week is all you need to improve your health. But if you have any health conditions that limit your ability to exercise, make sure you talk to your doctor first.

Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is also beneficial. While more studies into the benefits of specific foods or supplements are needed, we do know that eating lots of fatty and processed foods, which are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt, is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and is best avoided. There is good evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing some forms of dementia.

As yet, no single factor has been identified as the cause of dementia, and there is no cure. But there are ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia, but also to live well with a diagnosis of dementia, by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

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