Keep Your Body Healthy; It May Lead to Better Brain Health

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

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

Chronic health conditions included in the report were diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and kidney disease. SCD was most 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, also may reduce risk for SCD.

You are probably familiar with the actions needed to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but they bear repeating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 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 Quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

2. 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.

3. Prevent and Manage High Cholesterol—Forty percent of adults in Alabama who have it checked have high cholesterol. Learn how to manage your cholesterol levels and lower your risk by working with your healthcare team.

4. 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

5. Get Enough Sleep—A third of American adults report that they usually get less sleep than the recommended amount.

6. Stay Engaged—There are many ways for older adults to get involved in their local community.

7. Manage Blood Sugar—Learn how to manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes. Keeping blood sugar levels within the recommended target range as much as possible helps prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems. Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) services can help people with diabetes make positive changes in health behaviors and improve diabetes-related outcomes.

8. If You Drink, Do So in Moderation—Learn about alcohol use and your health.

Chronic disease education and management programs are available, and the Alabama Chronic Disease Online Resource Directory at provides information about specific offerings statewide. These include self-monitoring blood pressure measurement sites and DSMES programs to help participants implement and sustain behaviors important to managing their conditions on an ongoing basis.

Be sure to discuss any symptoms of cognitive decline you may have with your healthcare provider. Your age and genetics cannot be controlled, but many health risk factors can be modified so you can enjoy an improved quality of life. Make good choices!

Scott Harris, M.D., M.P.H.
State Health Officer