Do you fear aging? With the prevalence of dementia increasing, many people fear getting old. Thanks to medical advancements, our bodies are living longer, but what about our minds? By 2060, it’s estimated that 14 million people in the U.S. will have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
But before you resign yourself to the same fate as your parents or grandparents, there’s good news. Recent studies show that a healthy lifestyle could lower your risk of dementia and cognitive decline, even if you have high genetic risk.
When it comes to brain health, the choices you make today matter.
What makes a brain-healthy lifestyle?
We often talk about “healthy lifestyle” in terms of losing weight or fending off chronic disease, but many people lack awareness of the connection between their lifestyle and their risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
Research indicates that living a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia. Your daily habits and choices — from your diet, to stress levels, to sleep, to exercise — play a tremendous role in reducing cognitive decline as you age. This connection can’t be stressed enough. I discuss this with every patient I see.
Your daily habits and choices — from your diet, to stress levels, to sleep, to exercise — play a tremendous role in reducing cognitive decline as you age.
There are risk factor genes, like apolipoprotein E4, that can increase your risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. However, that does not mean that you will definitely develop the disease. It’s significant to note this recent study’s finding that even among people with a high genetic risk, those who maintained a healthy lifestyle were less likely to develop dementia later in life. It is important to be aware of these findings to understand the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.
When it comes to fending off Alzheimer’s, we can’t focus solely on our brains. The same principle stands for heart health, cancer care, mental health, chronic disease and any other medical condition. Your body is a complicated organism, with many connections and nuances that you don’t even realize — fortunately, living an active, balanced lifestyle goes a long way in improving your health in many of these areas.
It’s never too early to get started living a brain-healthy lifestyle. Research indicates that the changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease actually begin 10-20 years prior to symptoms! It is important to act now.
Everything from your relationships to your diet matters. Balancing these factors can empower you to live a healthy life as you age.
Work your brain.
Did you know you can actually improve your memory and brain health? New neurotransmitter connections can be made by training the brain, at any age. Challenge your brain to solve puzzles, learn new skills or memorize poems.
Stay socially engaged.
Research shows that maintaining strong relationships helps protect your brain as you age. Make time for social interaction, get involved in group activities and stay plugged in to the world around you.
Keep your body moving.
Follow the MIND diet.
As with virtually any health condition, food plays an important role. Following the MIND diet has been proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Try incorporating more nuts, berries, fish, vegetables and leafy grains into your diet.
Take control of cardiovascular risk factors.
Your heart health and your brain health are closely tied. Talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease.
It’s easy to let sleep take a backburner when your schedule gets busy. But depriving your body of rest has serious ramifications for your physical and mental health.
Keep stress levels low.
We could all stand to be a little bit less stressed, don’t you think? Reducing stress goes a long way in keeping your brain healthy.
Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol.
The dangers of smoking are well documented. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can break the habit for the sake of your long-term health.
Worried about your risk of dementia? Talk to a doctor today.
About the author
Claudia Padilla, MD, is a behavioral neurologist on the medical staff at Baylor Neuroscience Center’s AT&T Memory Center. Dr. Padilla specializes in the diagnosis and management of progressive cognitive and behavioral impairments. She also serves as the research medical director of the AT&T Memory Center.