Harris: keep your body healthy; can lead to better brain health


MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Brain health and physical health are both important, especially as we age. According to the most recent survey of people ages 45 and older in Alabama, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), one in seven Alabamians experience subjective cognitive decline, or SCD. SCD is defined as self-reported confusion or memory problems that have worsened within the past year.

In Alabama, 88% of people with SCD have at least one chronic condition; 46% had to give up daily activities; over a third say it interferes with social activities, work or volunteering; and 40% say they need help with household chores. Despite these lifestyle challenges, less than half of people with SCD have discussed their symptoms with a healthcare professional.

Chronic health conditions included in the report were diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and kidney disease. SCD was more common among adults with COPD or heart disease or who had had a stroke. Healthy behaviors, which have been shown to prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, can also reduce the risk of SCD.

You probably know the actions needed to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but they bear repeating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list the following eight steps you can take for a healthier body and healthier brain.

  1. Quit Smoking—Quitting smoking now improves your health and reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses. Free quitlines: 1-800-EXIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
  1. Prevent and manage high blood pressure: About 43 percent of adults in Alabama have high blood pressure and only about half have it under control. Check your blood pressure regularly and work with your healthcare team to make control your goal.
  1. Prevent and manage high cholesterol: 40 percent of screened adults in Alabama have high cholesterol. Find out how to manage your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk by working with your healthcare team.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight: Healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. Instead, it’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity. Resources for healthy lifestyles can be viewed at alabamapublichealth.gov/npa/healthy-lifestyle.
  1. Get enough sleep: One-third of American adults report getting less sleep than the recommended amount.
  1. Stay Engaged: There are many ways seniors can get involved in their local community.
  1. Manage your blood sugar: Find out how to manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes. Keeping your blood sugar levels within the recommended target range as much as possible helps prevent or delay serious long-term health problems. Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support Services (DSMES) can help people with diabetes make positive changes in health behaviors and improve diabetes-related outcomes.
  1. If you drink, do it in moderation – find out about alcohol use and your health.

Chronic disease education and management programs and the Alabama Chronic Disease Online Resource Directory are available at dph1.adph.state.al.us/alchronicresources provides information on specific offerings across the state. These include self-monitoring sites for blood pressure measurement and DSMES programs to help participants implement and sustain behaviors important to manage their conditions on an ongoing basis.

Be sure to discuss any symptoms of cognitive decline you may be having with your doctor. Your age and genetics can’t be controlled, but many health risk factors can be changed so you can enjoy a better quality of life. Make good choices!

Scott Harris, MD, MPH
State Health Officer

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