Activate Your Health Team

brain health controlling your risk factors 250xNo one can do it all alone – and this absolutely applies to your health. Brain health and cardiovascular health are closely related. Those factors that are risk for heart disease, heart attacks and strokes are also risk factors for developing dementia. An important movement over the last several years has been that of Know Your Numbers, which refers to 5 key risk factors and their associated numbers: Total Cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). Waist circumferences is often considered as well. These are all considered modifiable risk factors and knowing and understanding the numbers allows for avenues to improve health and reduce risk for disease, primarily through diet and exercise.

It’s not easy to find the motivation to adapt healthy lifestyle choices, which is why we connected with Helle Brand, a Physician Assistant at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, and asked her for some advice to overcome a few common objections.

How do I set a realistic goal?

“Goals are best when they are specific, manageable and easily adjusted. Rather than a vague, “I will be healthier” or “I will lower my blood pressure.” Instead, state the goal specifically as “I will walk 30 minutes a day” or “I will eat a salad at lunch rather than a sandwich and chips.” As you see the weight or inches fall or your blood pressure improve, you can revise your goal.”

Change is hard – what's the point of changing now?

“You can effect change at any point in life. It takes commitment but having a vision to work towards will help. Eating better, walking routinely will help reduce the weight and improve your numbers. The goal may be reducing medications, feeling more self-confident, being able to keep up with grandchildren—but identify that goal, measure your improvements along the way and create a reward for yourself at key points.”

How do I connect with the right resources? 

“Start with your primary care to identify what you should address and some realistic goals to reach. Consider a buddy system to help support and hold you accountable to your goal, or use community resources like nutritionists, gyms, fitness professionals.”

Knowledge is power – take advantage of this easy-to-follow worksheet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and get to know your numbers. Changing your habits for better health and tracking your progress can be very helpful to both you and your health team.

Take the first step to identify and control your risk factors as soon as possible – you will find that you have more energy, your clothes are fitting looser, your numbers are improving, and that you feel better. Look forward to that first compliment from others! 

Browse all seven Building Blocks for Aging Wellto help maintain your brain health and wellness.