September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. Many experts believe that one-third of all cases of dementia could be prevented through lifestyle changes. Engaging in healthful activities – from exercise to eating well to learning new skills – may be able to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms from developing, even in people who have some of the physical manifestations of the disease. Here are some lifestyle choices you can make to help reduce the risk and keep your brain performing at its peak.
Way to Improve Your Brain Health
Engage Your Mind in Stimulating Activities
A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley suggests that not all people who develop beta-amyloid deposits – a destructive protein association with Alzheimer’s disease – go on to manifest the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Results from this and previous studies led Dr. William Jagust, the study’s principal investigator, to conclude that “it’s very possible that people who spend a lifetime involved in cognitively stimulating activity have brains that are better able to adapt to potential damage.” Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, notes that “anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, engaging your mind encourages brain cells to grow, which may lessen the effects of dementia, even where beta-amyloid deposits are present.
A recent study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that women who are physically fit in middle age decrease their risk of being diagnosed with dementia by 90 percent compared to those who are moderately fit. But what if you didn’t exercise when you were younger? Does it pay to start exercising in your 60s, 70s and beyond? Yes! In a study that was part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, researchers found that midlife moderate exercise reduced the likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 39 percent; moderate exercise in late life reduced the chances of developing MCI, which increases your likelihood of developing dementia, by 32 percent. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent.
After you’re done exercising, find some time to be still and meditate. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston had people between the ages of 55 and 90, all of whom had MCI, do a guided meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day and practice yoga for at least two hours a week for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, participants showed an overall improvement in cognition and well-being. Their MRIs showed a slowing of brain shrinkage and improved functional connectivity compared to the group who didn’t meditate.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Several studies have shown that your brain has a wonderful way of eliminating toxic waste, including beta-amyloid proteins. These studies also discovered that the system that accomplishes this feat is 10 times more active during sleep. So if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your brain can’t eliminate waste efficiently. A study from the University of California, Berkeley discovered that poor sleep caused more buildup of beta-amyloid proteins and that this buildup affected people’s ability to sleep well, a classic vicious cycle. The good news is that poor sleep is a highly treatable condition.
Eat More Healthfully
We all know that eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of food is detrimental to staying in peak physical condition. So it is with the brain. Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at UCLA’s School of Medicine, published research that found that the brains of obese seniors had about eight percent less brain volume than their normal-weight counterparts. Lower brain volume increases one’s risk for Alzheimer’s.
Become More Socially Active
Maintaining an active social life – whether that’s meeting a neighbor for a cup of coffee, volunteering, or joining a book club – has a positive effect on the brain. The Mayo Clinic conducted a study that found that socializing with others made participants (who had a median age of 87) 55 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment.