At your last visit to the doctor, did you get advice on how to keep your heart healthy? Were there suggestions on what you can do to reduce your risk of cancer? 

Many progressive doctors are now also offering advice on how to take care of your brain. Fortunately, many of the healthy habits you already have are helping to make a difference for your long-term cognitive health too.

Although there is no universally-recognized medicine to prevent Alzheimer’s disease yet, the McCance Center is accelerating the research on lifestyle interventions, as well as pursuing prevention and cures in the lab. Our research covers brain health across the lifespan. Learn more about the scientific research and clinical trials.

The SHIELD plan, developed by McCance Center Director Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, is a great way to remember how to take care of your brain now. If you can improve your brain health today, you’ll reduce the risk for brain disease in the future.

STEP 1: We recommend talking with your doctor first, and walking through the McCance Brain Care Score, our multi-dimensional brain care tracker, to see where you stand today. 

STEP 2: Once you understand your score, you will see where you have room for improvement. The SHIELD plan helps you remember the everyday steps you can take to preserve and promote brain health and prevent other age-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

Tanzi’s SHIELD mantra to preserve and promote brain health:

S stands for sleep – get 7-8 hours
Sleep serves to clear away the plaques that lead to cognitive decline. Plaques begin decades before signs of decline. So, getting good sleep at any age (even power naps) can improve your brain health.
Looking for ways to improve the quality of your sleep? Visit The American Heart Association’s guide to healthy sleep.

H is for handling stress
Establishing a meditation practice and managing expectations can reduce stress. Follow the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine on social media and visit their website, for ongoing tips and guided meditations; also visit the Mental Health & Wellbeing guide from The American Heart Association.

I is for interaction with friends
Loneliness doubles risk for Alzheimer’s. The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine is a good source of information for caregivers and families on how to help avoid this risk.

E is for exercise
Exercise induces new nerve cell growth to strengthen brain regions affected in Alzheimer’s disease, and triggers the breakdown of brain amyloid. Finding an exercise that works for you is key. Starting small and working up to the recommended 150 minutes per week, can have a great impact on our brain health. Often communities have free programs, such as these offered by the City of Boston, to help you meet like-minded people and keep motivated.

L is for learning new things
Learning new things strengthens and increases the number of synapses in your brain, the connections between nerve cells storing your memories. Synapse loss correlates most with the degree of dementia. The more synapses you make, the more you have to spare. Puzzles aren’t necessarily the answer, either. A recent Harvard Health article says “Practicing a new and challenging activity is a good bet for building and maintaining cognitive skills.” Learn a new language, take a class – these activities have major benefits.

D is for diet
Dr. Tanzi says the best diet for the brain is the Mediterranean diet, which minimizes red meat and is rich in fiber from fruit and vegetables. A plant based diet balances the bacteria in your gut, called the “gut microbiome.” A healthy gut microbiome has also been shown to reduce amyloid plaque and brain neuroinflammation, a major killer of nerve cells in the brain. MGH nutritionist Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN provides this advice on “Aging Well: A Diet for Your Brain,” and for a broader understanding, visit The American Heart Association’s guide to healthy eating.

For more information about SHIELD, see Shield Your Brian from Decline in the Harvard Health Letter.