More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is a process in which cells degenerate, and one of the theories is the cells don’t get the proper nutrients to survive in your body. Exercising, both physical and cognitive, increases blood flow to the brain, therefore providing nutrients it needs to cells.

Studies show that individuals who get regular cardiovascular exercise tend to do better on memory testing and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

It’s important to live a healthy lifestyle to include diet and exercise, but exercising your brain also can be just as important. Studies about cognitive exercises are not as clear, but there is evidence that patients who engage in cognitive activities are able to maintain optimally performing brain cells.

Cognitive activities could include word searches, Sudoku, crossword puzzles and reading. The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation reports reading is uniquely beneficial for the brain. This is because it requires active engagement of the mind and imagination stimulating both hemispheres of the brain.

Just participating in social activity, such as being with and talking to family and friends, is good. There also are a multitude of websites or apps for your phone specifically for cognitive development. I recommend 30 to 40 minutes, three to four times per week to improve cognitive health.

Anything is better than nothing. I really see it as medication with no side effect. Doing a crossword puzzle doesn’t have side effects; it’s just using up some of your time.

An activity that uses logic and skill and is engaging will be beneficial. Some studies have shown that these types of activities have the same result as traditional medications we have to treat Alzheimer’s. Watching television is not a good cognitive activity. Watching television is a very passive activity, and many times patients aren’t really engaged. You’re really just staring at the screen, so it’s not considered engaging.

Neurologists typically use a combination of things to slow Alzheimer’s. We always use medication as the first line of treatment. Other recommendations include lifestyle adjustment. This includes getting exercise, eating right, proper nutrition.

The cognitive exercises in addition to all these other things gives you the best chance, and that’s really what we’re looking for. We have medications that are limited in what they can do for the patient, so we try to pursue every opportunity.

Dr. Elijah Owens is a board-certified neurologist practicing at MUSC Health-Neurology in Florence. He is a member of the medical staff at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. For more information, call 843-669-0927 or go to MUSChealth.org/florence.