We all know that running, jogging and walking are a great way to look after your mental wellbeing and your heart, but did you know it’s a great way of looking after your physical brain health too?
Here parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt explains why he’s getting behind Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign.
A healthy brain has always been important to me. And now more than ever, it is at the forefront of my mind.
Back in 2004, I got a group of friends together for a 5k run in London’s Bushy Park. Without specifically planning for it, that cloudy Saturday morning was the start of a process where I felt both my physical and mental health began to improve.
That has all been well documented over the last few years but it’s not what I’m talking to you about today. However, it provides a great backdrop to the topic of ‘brain health’. Just as I didn’t know when I founded parkrun that I was starting intervention for mental health, I only discovered recently that brain health is a thing too.
Regular contact with friends, physical activity in open spaces, and social contact around the coffee table, can all have an impact on our brain health. parkrun has provided a platform for these essential elements over the past sixteen years, contributing towards improving the wellbeing and brain health of myself, and subsequently many others.
I have discovered that I can proactively broaden my brain health too. Starting with growing my connections and improving the support I receive from my friends, I am now less isolated and alone and this helps me remain motivated. Further improving my brain health has included solving puzzles, reading books and playing games, all of which helps me to stay sharp.
It’s hardly surprising to read that research from Alzheimer’s Research UK has recently shown that one in 10 adults believe their brain health has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic.
But there are things we can do. Things we can do for ourselves, things we can do for others. Things that, in the ‘normal’ world, parkrun provides. You might not realise the long-term significance of simple actions, but they can help keep us sharp, protect us from a decline in brain health and help prevent dementia.
That’s why Alzheimer’s Research UK’s new campaign encouraging people to Think Brain Health is so important, and why we at parkrun are proud to be involved in its development. The campaign promotes three simple rules for maintaining good brain health – looking after your heart health, staying sharp, and keeping connected.
I know all too well that the brain is a powerful place. I implore you all to look after it.
Exercising regularly, being outdoors in the fresh air, taking part in activities, and trying to nurture social connections can all help us to lower our risk of dementia. They might not sound like typical activities that look after your brain. But they do. Finding joy in the little things and staying stimulated may help us prevent many problems later in life.
I’ve found it is vital to take time for yourself, to not be busy, to not be distracted and to be present. Make space in your day for things you enjoy and enable those around you to do the same. We can start improving our whole wellbeing now. In my experience, making small achievable changes regularly leads to sustainable healthy habits. This is what I wish for you.
These things can be hard to achieve in a lockdown, but there are still things we can do, and I encourage you all to think about brain health. Have it in the back of your mind. Have I done enough today to look after my brain?
We know ⅔ of people are thinking about improving their brain health and now is the time to act. Pick up a book, do a crossword, play games with your children, play games with your friends on zoom. Make a plan to walk, run or jog everyday no matter how short or how slow. Talk to your family about how you are feeling, a problem shared is a problem solved and you’ll be helping your brain health by building important connections with other people at the same time. Think, talk, act.
Having Alzheimer’s Research UK as a parkrun partner for several years, we can see how profoundly dementia has impacted the parkrun community. Dementia is caused by physical diseases, like Alzheimer’s. While there’s not a sure-fire way to prevent these diseases, looking after your brain health is the best way you can reduce your risk. If we can start to think brain health in the same way we think about physical and mental health, we could help more people head off dementia in the future. You can act now to reduce your risk of dementia, it’s never too late. It’s vital that we do more, now.
Looking after your brain looks different for everyone and it can be difficult to know where to start so Alzheimer’s Research UK has created helpful tips and advice to follow at the campaign website thinkbrainhealth.org.uk
Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE
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