Alzheimer’s disease is one of the biggest concerns many of us have as we get older. While you may have been told that all you can do is hope for the best and wait for a pharmaceutical cure, the truth is much more encouraging. There is strong evidence that people can reduce their risk by making certain lifestyle choices, such as physical activity and diet, which may help support brain health. Implementing these healthy habits may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and help ward off Alzheimer’s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent. Exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow in the brain. Exercise stimulates the brain’s ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones. It can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems. The ideal plan involves a combination of moderately vigorous cardio exercise and strength training for at least 30 minutes three to four days per week.
A growing body of research suggests a strong link between metabolic disorders and signal processing systems. Current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating may also help protect the brain. Heart-healthy eating includes limiting the intake of sugar and saturated fats and making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables as well as whole grains. Evidence suggests that the DHA found in omega-3 fats, which are found in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, seaweed, and sardines, may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by reducing beta-amyloid plaques.
Extra pounds are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have found that overweight people in midlife were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s down the line, and those who were obese had three times the risk. Losing weight can go a long way toward protecting your brain.
There are several links between poor sleep patterns and the development of Alzheimer’s. Some studies have emphasized the importance of quality sleep for flushing out toxins in the brain. Poor sleep has also been linked to higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain, a sticky protein that can further disrupt the deep sleep necessary for memory formation.
Social connections and intellectual activity
Studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline. Experts are not certain about the reason for this association, but it may be due to social and mental stimulation strengthening connections between nerve cells in the brain. There is also evidence that activities involving multiple tasks or requiring communication, interaction and organization offer increased protection.
Chronic or persistent stress can take a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area, hampering nerve cell growth and increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Stress management tools can minimize these harmful effects. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or yoga can help reverse the damaging effects of stress.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is strongly associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. High blood pressure can damage tiny blood vessels in the parts of the brain responsible for cognition and memory. Research from Johns Hopkins found those prescribed antihypertensive medications to control high blood pressure lowered their dementia risk by about a third. While high blood pressure is far more common, low blood pressure (hypotension) can also reduce blood flow to the brain and must be addressed.
Studies suggest there may be a connection between high cholesterol and the risk for Alzheimer’s, especially having high cholesterol levels in mid-life. Improving your cholesterol levels can be beneficial for both your brain and your heart.
Smoking is one of the most preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s. One study found that smokers over the age of 65 have a nearly 80% higher risk of Alzheimer’s than those who have never smoked. When you stop smoking, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately.
Experts believe that the risk of Alzheimer’s is not limited to old age, but in fact, can start long before symptoms are detected. It’s never too early to start taking care of your brain health. By identifying and controlling your risk factors and leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, you can maximize your chances of lifelong brain health and preserve your cognitive abilities. These steps may prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slow down the process of deterioration.
West Tennessee Healthcare’s Senior Services department now offers an Alzheimer’s Resource Center for those looking for help for themselves or a loved one. Appointments to visit the center may be scheduled by calling 731-541-8757.