For many years, we’ve been told that there’s little we can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. All we can do, this line of thinking goes, is hope for the best as we age and wait for a pharmaceutical cure. But the truth is much more encouraging.
New research reveals that lifestyle factors play a significant role in protecting your brain as you age. You can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by eating right, exercising, staying mentally and socially active, and keeping stress in check. By leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, you may even be able to prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease entirely and slow down, or even reverse, the deterioration of aging.
Lifestyle choices can protect your brain
Researchers across the world are racing towards a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But as prevalence rates climb, their focus has broadened from treatment to prevention strategies. What they’ve discovered is that it may be possible to prevent or delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias through a combination of healthful habits.
There are steps you can take to keep your brain healthy as you age. It’s never too early to start boosting your brain reserves, so what are you waiting for? Take action today!
The 6 pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle
The health of your brain, like the health of your body, depends on many factors.
While some factors, such as your genes, are out of your control, many powerful lifestyle factors are within your sphere of influence.
The six pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle are:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Mental stimulation
- Quality sleep
- Stress management
- An active social life
The more you strengthen each of the six pillars in your daily life, the healthier and hardier your brain will be.
When you lead a brain-healthy lifestyle, your brain will stay working stronger…longer.
Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention pillar #1: Regular exercise
The benefits of exercise
In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, regular exercise:
- Reduces stress
- Boosts mood
- Improves memory
- Increases energy
According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent.
Regular exercise can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems.
If you’ve been inactive for a while, starting an exercise program can be intimidating. But you don’t have to take up jogging or sign up for a gym membership. Look for small ways to add more movement into your day. Park at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs, carry your own groceries, or walk around the block or pace while talking on your cell phone.
Tips for getting started and sticking with your exercise plan:
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week. Try walking, swimming, or any other activity that gets your heart rate up. Even routine activities such as gardening, cleaning, or doing laundry count as exercise.
- Build muscle to pump up your brain. Moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they help you maintain brain health. Combining aerobics and strength training is better than either activity alone. For those over 65, adding 2-3 strength sessions to your weekly routine may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
- Include balance and coordination exercises. Head injuries from falls are an increasing risk as you grow older, which in turn increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile and avoid spills. Try yoga, Tai Chi, or exercises using balance discs or balance balls.
- Stick with it for a month. It takes approximately 28 days for a new routine to become habit. Once you’re over this hump, keeping up your exercise routine will feel natural. In the meantime, write realistic goals on a workout calendar and post it on the fridge. Build in frequent rewards, and within no time, the feel-good endorphins from regular exercise will help you forget the remote…and head out the door.
- Protect your head. Studies suggest that head trauma at any point in life significantly increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This includes repeated hits in sports activities such as football, soccer, and boxing, or one-time injuries from a bicycle, skating, or motorcycle accident. Protect your brain by wearing properly fitting sports helmets, buckling your seatbelt, and trip-proofing your environment. Avoid activities that compete for your attention—like talking on your cell while driving or listening to music while running. A moment’s distraction can lead to a brain-injuring thud!