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Exercise Your Brain With The #SummerChallenge!

Exercise Your Brain With The #SummerChallenge!

Front view of grandfather with hat and grandchild walking on a nature path ** Note: Shallow depth of field

With the warmer temperatures, extra hours of sunlight, and an increase in vitamin D, summer is a great time to get outside, get active and take part in the new Alzheimer Society of Ontario’s #summerchallenge! While you’re out there getting your body moving, don’t forget to give your brain a workout too!

Research shows that keeping your brain active can help to reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. Exercising your brain is simple, free, and gives you incredible benefits. Let’s take a look at three great ways to flex your brain cells!

  1. Neurobic exercises

Neurobics is the science of brain exercise, with the aim of helping you to hold on to memories while also being able to absorb new information. To get the most out of neurobics:

  • Stimulate your senses in a new way
  • Utilize your emotions and engage with other people
  • Find a way to break your usual routine

Try brushing your teeth with your opposite hand. Put some coins in your pocket, and try to determine the denominations just by feeling them. Go inside and pay the gas station attendant instead of paying at the pump. Practices like these will encourage your brain to make new connections.

    2. Read out loud

While reading is itself a fabulous activity that exercises your brain on different levels, reading out loud kicks the cerebral workout up a notch.

Reading utilizes visual pathways to make memory links but reading out loud creates a layer of auditory pathways, which helps us to remember things better. In addition to pathway creation, reading aloud sharpens focus, increases your vocabulary, and leads to greater comprehension – all of which help to strengthen your brain.

3. Practice mindfulness

One of the best things you can do for cerebral health is to stop thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. The practice of mindfulness is one that exercises our brains in a way we don’t do enough of – by shutting out all external stimuli and being present in the here and now.

Mindfulness meditation is a great way to enjoy the current moment. Find somewhere comfortable to sit upright, ensure there is no noise or other distractions in your space, and simply start focusing on your breath. Take deep breaths in and out, feeling how the air flows through your body. The stillness may feel uncomfortable at first, but try to engage in the exercise for at least a minute.

Mindfulness improves your effectiveness, reduces cortisol levels, and helps with a number of other physical and mental health markers. Mindfulness also helps us to be grateful in the moment, and that positivity leads to an increased benefit to our health and how we look at life.

So, there you have it. Three excellent ways to challenge your brain, learn more about yourself, and get some great benefits out of it all. Neurobics, reading out loud, and mindfulness – which one will you try today? Tweet us, comment on Facebook, or share your thoughts below, and enjoy the #summerchallenge!

Feeling lucky? Enter the Summer Challenge contest on!

My grandparents brain healthly lifestyle inspired me

My grandparents brain healthly lifestyle inspired me

I was in my late teens when I decided to move in with my grandparents. I thought it would be something new and they were aspiring vegans with a great vegetable garden. They lived in a retirement community and, being the youngest person to take residence there, I caused quite a stir. Nevertheless, I took over their spare room and immersed myself in the life of a retiree.

They started every day with a smoothie, full of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, while they read the paper, completed the sudoku and crossword, then called me in to read my horoscope.

My grandmother spent her days gardening, chatting and reading romance novels; my grandfather golfed all the time, mowed lawns and played cards with my uncles.

I enjoyed the two years I spent with them. They are young at heart and I loved hearing their perspective on life, soaking up whatever lessons they were willing to teach me.

One of the most important things I learned during my time there was about brain health. Brain exercises were a ritual revered by my grandparents.

It’s because Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant in my family. My grandparents have seen their parents, siblings, and friends lost in that slow decline of memory loss and confusion. They have witnessed firsthand the effects this illness has on a family and they did everything possible to stop it.

It’s a lesson I have kept with me, even after I moved out. I know that it’s never too early to focus on brain health and reduce my risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I value that foresight because many of my friends don’t realize the long term health effects of their actions today.

I use my free time to train my brain, learning languages and playing puzzle games. I use apps like Elevate to track my progress and hone my skills. And weekends, I love to go hiking and have coffee with friends. I remember that, even though it may seem far away now, life will move quickly and I don’t want to be in a position later on that will be harder to correct.

Today, my grandparents still complete the same morning routine, but now the paper has been traded for a tablet and they’re a little less vegan than before. However, they still take those simple steps to stay the healthiest they can be, and hopefully, they will one day teach my children the same lessons they taught me.

Learn more about how you can keep your brain healthy.

DakotaDakota Clark

Humber College PR student

Run like the wind for Alzheimer’s

Run like the wind for Alzheimer’s

“Thank you, Son,” is what I should have said. “What a great reason for some quality father/son time,” would have been better. Instead, I cried, “You did what?!”

That was Christmas morning 2014. My eldest son had signed us both up for the Ottawa Marathon. I was scheduled to run 26 miles, or 42 km, in less than 5 months.

I’m in my 50’s, I haven’t run regularly for over 20 years and I’m about 20 pounds heavier since my last marathon in 1995. I’d better take this seriously. Of course, training with my son motivates me; staying healthy to take on whatever other surprises he will send my way as he makes his way through life does as well; and using this day to contribute to dementia research is the crowning piece.

No cure or treatment exists. There are no ways to prevent the disease. Yet, I have learned I can do something about dementia:

  • I initially set a fundraising goal of $5,000 to support dementia research, which I will match. As I’m writing this, my goal has been met… and surpassed! Thank you very much for your support. Now, let’s see how much higher we can go! 
  • With March being Brain Health Awareness Month, my colleagues have reminded me that physical activity is one of the four lifestyle choices (including social and mental stimulation, and healthy diet) that are good for you. And they’re good for your brain too, encouraging the development of new cells and new connections within the brain.
  • And according to the Ontario Brain Institute, being physically active is associated with a 38% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

As I pursue these goals of staying healthy and raising money for dementia research, I have added to my training schedule a long-run every Saturday. Even mother-nature is urging me forward: this harsh winter of ours has offered balmy single-digit temperatures for most of those Saturdays with double digit lows for the balance of the week. I’ve actually started to enjoy running again, especially when I get in the zone, and realize I’ve just run another 10 k without thinking about running at all.

Not such a bad Christmas gift after all, right?

I would go to the ends of the earth for my family, so 42 kilometres seems quite reasonable. On that Christmas morning, I had no idea that his gift could mean so much for so many people.

imageWriter.aspxChris Dennis is the interim CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. Though he has many years of experience in the health-care sector, these past few months have offered him a unique window into this disease and he is committed to raising as much money for Alzheimer’s care and research as possible.

Get your body (and mind) moving with the physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease Toolkit

Get your body (and mind) moving with the physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease Toolkit

We all know that exercising regularly is good for our bodies, but did you know it can also support brain health? Back in 2013, the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) put together a panel of experts to explore the relationship between physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease. The resulting report found that people who are more active when they’re over the age of 65 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease — by about 40%. For individuals already diagnosed with the disease, physical activity can positively impact the overall quality of life by improving mood and increasing independence.

As a result of these findings, OBI – in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario; the Alzheimer Society of Brant, Haldimand Norfolk, Hamilton Halton; ParticipACTION; McMaster University and the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence; the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology; Western’s Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging; and the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults – recently introduced the Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease Toolkit.

The toolkit contains both an information pamphlet and a physical activity calendar. The pamphlet highlights three different but equally important areas of physical activity: aerobics (cardio), strength training, and balance. Each category comes with examples. For instance, brisk walking, going for a hike, and cross-country skiing are all forms of aerobic exercise – anything that gets the heart rate up. Using resistance bands in your exercise routine can be an excellent way to strengthen muscles, and tai chi and yoga help with balance.

“We wanted to move away from the idea of physical activity as going to the gym for an hour and doing high intensity workouts,” says Tiffany Scarcelli, who was involved with the creation of the toolkit. “Although that kind of exercise is beneficial, it can be daunting for someone over the age of 65 who is currently inactive. This toolkit shows them that there are other ways to be physically active.” The most important thing is that seniors get up and move for at least 30 minutes every day: doing some light housework, taking the stairs, playing with grandchildren…. it all adds up!

The bright, user-friendly and motivational calendar contains a weekly planner that you can fill in yourself. The calendar also offers suggestions of activities you can do if your plans are interrupted. If it’s raining outside, for example, try exercising indoors or go for a swim. You get to decide what you want to do and when, which can be especially empowering for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

A lot of the activities mentioned in the toolkit can be done with a caregiver or in social settings. As part of her work with the Alzheimer Society, Tiffany is involved in a physical activity and brain stimulation program called Minds in Motion. “The program pairs participants with their caregivers, which is great. They both exercise, while engaging in meaningful social interactions. The program runs once a week, for 8 weeks, in a community-based program centre. The 2-hour program offers gentle and easy-to-follow physical activities, and fun social activities focused on building personal skills in a very friendly setting.” Physical activity also offers the bonus of reducing stress and depression for caregivers.

So what are you waiting for? Tie up those shoelaces and get moving!

Minds in Motion [] is currently available in six different sites: Hamilton Halton,Grey-BruceSudbury ManitoulinThunder BayWaterloo Wellington, and London Middlesex. Copies of the toolkit can be picked up through a Minds in Motion site, or at your local Alzheimer Society.

The toolkit can also be printed directly from the OBI website—click here to access an English version or a French version.

Hannele Kivinen, Caregiver Exchange

Reduce your risk by boosting your brain health

Reduce your risk by boosting your brain health


It’s never too soon, or too late to make changes that will maintain or improve your brain health, changes that may also help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

  • Train your brain.
    Keeping your body active makes you strong – same thing goes for your brain. Try new things. Challenge your mind with games, puzzles and crosswords. Visit a museum, take a class, play an instrument. Think, connect and engage.

  • Stay in touch.
    Social interaction appears to have a protective effect against dementia. Volunteer, see your family, join a book club, and spend time with positive people.

  • Choose a healthy lifestyle.
    Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity are all risk factors for dementia. Protect your health by eating right, staying active, reducing stress, not smoking and seeing your doctor regularly.

  • Protect your head.
    Concussions and other brain injuries are a risk factor for the later development of dementia. So drive safely. Avoid falls by installing handrails, removing scatter rugs and keeping paths clear of ice and snow. And always wear a helmet when you’re cycling, skiing, skating and snowboarding.

Healthy brains and bodies withstand illness better. So build your brain health and reduce your risk – find out more at

Meet Mahwesh Saleem: the next generation of Alzheimer researchers

Meet Mahwesh Saleem: the next generation of Alzheimer researchers

Brain function has always fascinated me because it’s very complicated. It’s not black and white, and so many things contribute to how you think and how you behave.

That interconnection means mental health ties into your physical health, and vice versa.

Because I’ve always been an analytical person, I like the challenge of figuring out those connections. Especially when the payoff is a better quality of life.

As we all know, Alzheimer’s disease can affect quality of life so dramatically. It’s important to do the research so we can alleviate the burden on those with the disease and on their families. That really is my ultimate goal.

As a PhD student, my focus right now is on blood sampling and neuropsychological testing, but I also have opportunities to go into neuroimaging and genetic testing. I think that will give me a fuller picture of the mechanisms in the brain.

And it’s only in getting the full picture that we can develop interventions that make a difference in people’s lives.

I have to say, I think I’ve found my niche. There is nothing I’d rather be doing.

Read more about Mahwesh Saleem.

Mahwesh Saleem, Alzheimer Society Research Program Mahwesh Saleem pic1

Summer’s bounty: adding brain healthy foods to your diet

Summer’s bounty: adding brain healthy foods to your diet

It feels like summer is finally arriving, and with it, an abundance of fresh and delicious food. It’s finally time for those fresh berries, sweet watermelon, and juicy oranges.

Summer is a  great opportunity to both take advantage of the less expensive in-season fruits and veggies and try to add some brain healthy food choices to your diet. Healthy food choices not only improve your health all around, they are also beneficial to brain health. Scientific evidence indicates that long-term healthy dietary choices help maintain brain function, slow memory decline and may help reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Watermelon is made mostly of water and helps keep you hydrated, and it also helps protect your skin cells from damage thanks to its lycopene content. Watermelon is also rich in vitamin B6, a vitamin that helps produce serotonin, lifting your spirits and reducing stress. It also helps the body to create hemoglobin to better supply oxygen to the brain in your blood.

Oranges are full of vitamin C, an immunobooster, and a powerful anti-oxidant. They also help replenish the body’s potassium, which is lost when you sweat. They make a great post-workout snack that can help reduce muscle cramps from loss of potassium.

Speaking of anti-oxidants, delicious berries are full of them! In fact, the blue/purple fruits and veggies, like blackberries, blueberries, purple cabbage, and plums are all great food choices. Berries also contain flavonoids, which may improve memory, learning and general cognitive function.

Want to help your skin even more? How about a salad with mixed greens, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard? From the spinach and kale you’ll get your vitamin A to help protect skin from sun damage and reduce sensitivity to harmful UV light, and you’ll also get anti-oxidants and the anti-inflammatory effects of Swiss chard.

If you add some tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to that salad, you’ll be helping your body fight against cancer, adding more lycopene to protect skin cells, and contributing to bone health with the helpings of vitamins A, C, and K and B6. Not to mention that lycopene is yet another anti-oxidant.

With all of this delicious and healthy food at its best in the summer, what’s not to like about this season? Even if you don’t like the hot weather, at least you can cool down with some of summer’s best bounty.

Learn more about how you can make healthy food choices.

Get out and get active! Enjoy summer and reduce your risk of stoke

Get out and get active! Enjoy summer and reduce your risk of stoke

Across the country we are enjoying a cooler and later summer this year. Now in late June, conditions are perfect to get out and enjoy the outdoors before the summer heat sets in!

Being a cyclist, my favourite part of summer is being able to ride my bike around the city. It gives me an opportunity to

  • check out what’s going on in the different neighbourhoods
  • get a bit of exercise
  • save on car/transit costs and
  • use a mode of transportation that is good for the environment!

And what I see is truly fantastic!  Any given evening, people are out biking, walking, picnicking, dancing, doing yoga, playing all kinds of sports and just getting out and having a good time.

In addition to having fun and enjoying the weather, getting out and doing something also has a hidden benefit – it reduces your risk of having a stroke. And since June is Stroke Awareness Month, what better time to do it!

A stroke happens when the blood flow to the brain is blocked or a blood vessel bleeds, preventing the blood from flowing properly. When this happens, the blood can’t get oxygen to the brain, and it causes brain cells to die. Scary stuff! Strokes can be small or large, and the difficulties that can occur depend on what part of the brain is affected. It can affect how you walk or speak, or cause weakness in an arm or a leg. Strokes are also cumulative, which means each stroke you have can be more debilitating.

Stroke is also a common cause of vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

So get out and enjoy the weather! Even  a daily 30-minute walk will help lower your risk of stroke.

Learn more about vascular dementia and its  risk factors.

Why an active mind makes a healthy brain

Why an active mind makes a healthy brain

Encouraging people to keep their minds active is important to help lower one’s risk of developing dementia. It has been suspected to be a key way to stave off the disease’s effects, something which benefits not only the individual with dementia, but society by lessening the social and economic burden of the disease.

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