Get started with the Brain Health Challenge

Take the Brain Health Challenge

It’s never too late (or too early), to start improving your brain health.

By making these few simple lifestyle changes, you can help to reduce the chances of developing dementia.

Research is also showing that exercising the brain can slow the thinking and functional decline of people with dementia, so these activities will also help you to live well with a diagnosis of dementia.

We’ve broken the four challenges down week by week, but feel free to take it at your own pace and mix it up, and try to combine the challenges as much as you can to maximise the benefits.

Before you start, we would recommend talking to your doctor, particularly if you have any health conditions.

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Week 1 – Look after your heart

What is good for the heart is good for the brain, so look after it! Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle will not only help to reduce your chances of developing dementia, it will also help to cut your risk of  developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, as well as heart attacks and strokes.

For good heart health:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control
  • Stay active and eating a balanced, healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol consumption to two standard drinks on each drinking occasion

This week's challenge: Be proactive and find out when you should have your heart risk assessment done here.


Week 2 – Get active

Physical activity helps our general fitness, muscle control and coordination, and makes us feel good! The most important thing is to choose activities you enjoy and stick with them.

Remember to always warm up and cool down. Listen to your body. Start with shorter sessions and work your way up. And if at any time you feel sick or you begin to hurt, stop the activity and ask your doctor for advice.

Getting active doesn’t stop at traditional sports or exercises. Just keep it fun and interesting and switch it up. Check out these handy tips for building activity into your daily life, and ways to get active at home.

If you’re looking for a new activity to try, you could give one of these a go:

  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga or Tai Chi

This week's challenge: Do 30 minutes of gentle exercise (such as walking), five times this week.


Week 3 – Eat well

Food is the fuel for our brain and body. So to keep it functioning as well as it can, we need to be eating a healthy, balanced diet. That means we should:

  • Eat lots of unprocessed, plant foods
  • Try to eat lots of foods rich in fibre to fill us up
  • Get plenty of fruit and vegetables (five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day)
  • Cut back on red meat but have fish twice a week
  • Keep fried, processed, fatty and sugary foods as an occasional treat
  • Drink plenty of water, and only have alcohol in moderation.

The most important thing is to enjoy our food. Find recipes that work for you and don’t be afraid to try new ones. Make food a social occasion. Ask around for some tips or have a healthy pot luck with friends and whānau to get some ideas!

This week's challenge: Try 3 new healthy recipes this week – like these tasty options from the Heart Foundation and invite friends or whānau round for one of them.


Week 4 – Challenge your brain and stay connected

Keeping our brains active is all about generating a little ‘mental sweat’, helping our brain to build new cells and strengthen the connections between them.

Generating a mental sweat can and should be fun!

Staying connected socially helps to keep our brains resilient and functioning the best it can. It also helps to prevent us feeling lonely, which can often become a problem as we get older. And if you are experiencing hearing loss, get it checked out.

All of these things have been shown to reduce our chances of developing dementia, but also can help to slow the thinking and functional decline for people living with dementia.

As we get older, keeping involved and active in the things we enjoy is really good for us. So rather than giving up activities that are becoming difficult, see if you can modify the activity, or give a new one a go!

Activities that help challenge our brains include:

  • Reading, puzzles and games
  • Listening to music or podcasts
  • Taking a course in something you’ve always wanted to learn, like dancing or a new language
  • Playing musical instruments or singing in a choir
  • Arts and crafts and other hobbies, such as gardening

Spend time with friends and whānau, and if you can, make time to meet new people too. Think of an activity you enjoy, and see if you can join a group in your community or give up some time as a volunteer.

This week's challenge: Look into joining an activity group and generate some mental sweat with a puzzle or game you enjoy


You did it! You’ve completed the Brain Health Challenge.

Hopefully you’ve found some new activities or recipes you’ve enjoyed. And the good news is that it’s never too late to make these small changes to keep our heart and brain working as best it can.

What next?

Keeping these up is really important. So try to incorporate your challenges into your week in the future. Better still, combine them. For example, meet up with friends or whānau for a healthy lunch and a catch up, then go for a stroll together. That’s three out of four already!

Tell us how you got on!

We’d love to hear from you. Send your photos and comments to comms@alzheimers.org.nz and you’ll go in for the chance to win a $100 Countdown Gift Card!