WHY A DOG (OR CAT) IS YOUR BRAIN’S BEST FRIEND: YOUR PET CAN BE A CATALYST FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION WITH STRANGERS… A VITAL PART OF KEEPING YOUR MIND HEALTHY AND REDUCING YOUR DEMENTIA RISK

Source:  Mail Online (Extract)
Posted:  22 January 2021

While travelling the world doing research for my new book, I realised something rather extraordinary.

Nearly everyone understands the importance of brain health, but few people have any idea how to make their brains healthier, or that achieving such a goal is even possible.

Most people seem to believe this mysterious organ encased in bone is a black box of sorts, untouchable and incapable of being improved. Not true!

The brain can be continuously and consistently enriched throughout your life, no matter your age or access to resources.

Our everyday experiences, including what we eat, how much we exercise, with whom we socialise, what challenges we face, how well we sleep, and what we do to reduce stress and learn, factor into our brain health and overall wellness far more than we can imagine.

Prevention is the most powerful antidote to illness, and this is especially true of degenerative maladies such as those in the brain and nervous system.

The risk of dementia rises exponentially after the age of 65, and by 85 a third of people will have the disease. But the studies show the rot starts to set in silently much earlier. 

If you are diagnosed at 65 there’s every chance your brain started to degenerate in your 30s. Symptoms which appear in your 80s will have been brewing since your 50s.

Few of us think about dementia when we’re entering our prime, but perhaps we should, because knowing that damage could be starting in your brain provides a remarkable opportunity to jump in and do something about it.

Once your brain is running cleanly and smoothly, everything else follows. You will make better decisions, have improved resilience and a more optimistic attitude, and the physical part of your body will improve, too.

Studies suggest your pain tolerance will increase, your need for medications will decrease, and your ability to heal will be accelerated.

When you put your brain first, everything else will fall into place health-wise. Your heart might tick, but it’s your brain that makes it tick and determines your quality of life.

Without a healthy brain, you cannot make healthy decisions. And with a healthy brain comes not only a healthy body, weight and heart but also a stronger sense of confidence, a more solid financial future thanks to smart choices, better relationships, and more love and happiness in your life.

FRIENDSHIPS ARE THE IDEAL MEDICINE

Some of the most influential and modifiable factors related to cognitive decline are linked to lifestyle: physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, smoking, social isolation, poor sleep, lack of mentally stimulating activities, and misuse of alcohol.

In the days when I was able to travel the world, I was struck by the fact that the liveliest and most joyful people I met, the ones who seemed to be having a great time despite their advanced age, were always the ones who maintained high-quality friendships, and had loving families and an expansive, dynamic social network.

Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected to family, friends and their community are happier and physically healthier, and they live longer.

There’s plenty of science to back up the fact that we need social connection to thrive, especially when it comes to brain health. Enjoying close ties to friends and family, as well as participating in meaningful social activities, helps keep your mind sharp and memories strong.

Caring for a cat, dog, or bird can be a catalyst to social interaction. Dogs are particularly good social icebreakers, because they serve as a conversation trigger between strangers or casual acquaintances.

Taking care of pets gives a sense of purpose and structure that benefits your brain health, too. Studies show contact with a pet can reduce depression, anxiety and social isolation, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attacks, and increase physical activity.

It is difficult to say precisely why maintaining social connections plays such a powerful role in keeping the brain young. One reason could be that it provides a buffer against the harmful physical effects of stress.

Certainly, people with fewer social connections are more likely to report problems such as disrupted sleep patterns, weakened immune systems, elevated inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones.

Research by Rush University Memory and Aging Project has shown that people with larger social networks are better protected against the cognitive declines related to Alzheimer’s than those with a smaller group of friends.

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