By Karalyn Cass, First Mile Care DPP Coach

The goal of the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is to help participants develop new habits they can sustain in order to lead a healthy lifestyle in the long term and prevent prediabetes. But a healthy lifestyle is not only concerned with physical fitness; it’s also about mental and emotional health.  As part of the First Mile Care “Diabetes Prevention in Action” webinar series, I offered some tips on how to keep your most important organ — your brain — healthy as you age. 

As part of the natural aging process, you experience gradual changes to your body. Your brain ages just like the rest of your body. It shrinks in size, it slows down in speed, it becomes less adaptable to change. Therefore, it’s critical to stretch your brain as well your heart, legs and other muscles.

Most people will continue to have strong memories as they grow older, and their ability to remember will not decline rapidly or substantially. But almost 40% of us will experience some form of memory loss at some point after age 65. A recent study published in JAMA Network Open emphasizes the importance for women, especially, to flex their brain to keep it in good condition. Women in the study showed faster declines in global cognition as they aged, even though memory decline was about the same as for men.

Typical age-associated memory impairment may include your inability to remember details of a conversation or event that took place over a year ago. Sometimes you might have difficulty finding a word at the tip of your tongue, or remembering the name of an acquaintance. That’s normal.  But when your memory loss affects your ability to stick to your normal routine, you’re finding it difficult to learn new things or complete familiar tasks, and people close to you notice changes in your abilities, those could be signs of greater cognitive decline or even dementia that you should discuss with your physician.

The diabetes-dementia link

Researchers in the UK are investigating how people with prediabetes run an elevated risk of cognitive decline. In the study, higher-than-normal blood sugar levels were linked to an increased likelihood of vascular dementia, a common form of non-Alzheimer’s dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. And according to a study report in Diabetes Care, people with diabetes were 60% more likely to develop any form of dementia than people without diabetes.

Knowing that if you are prediabetic, you are at greater risk for cognitive decline, it’s important to do what you can to reverse prediabetes and keep your brain from becoming flabby. Luckily, there are many things you can do to improve your brain health as well as your physical fitness and emotional well-being, which all influence each other.

  • Exercise (aerobic, strength training, balance, flexibility)
  • Healthy eating (especially brain-healthy foods such as berries, fish, green vegetables, and nuts)
  • Social connections
  • Reading and writing
  • Sleep quality and stress management
  • Art, music, and animal therapy
  • Learning new things (crafts, skills, languages, etc.)
Training your brain

Crossword and jigsaw puzzles, card games, word and number games, brain teasers, matching games, video and computer games, drawing, and even coloring books can stimulate your mind and sharpen your brain. The important thing is that they involve concentration, analysis and problem solving, and memory. 

There are many brain teasers and challenges you can find simply by going on YouTube or otherwise searching the internet. A few good sources — both free and paid subscriptions — can be found on the AARP’s Staying Sharp site, Cleveland Clinic’s Healthy Brains site, Lumosity, and Sharp Brains.

Watch the video below for my full presentation on improving brain health and adding quality years to your life.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!