Every 66 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. Experts suggest that a third of these cases can be prevented if we cared for our brains better in our younger years. A study in the Lancet combining the work of more than 20 researchers highlights the impact that lifestyle changes can have in reducing our risk for the disease.
Diet! Diet! Diet!
The science indicates that as much as one-half of dementia risk is related to poor diet. A brain-healthy eating plan should mimic the “Mediterranean Diet.”
In other words, it should include generous amounts of non-farmed oily fish, fruits and vegetables, unprocessed carbohydrates and olive oil.
The key here is maintaining a low glycemic diet. The glycemic index of foods is a measure of how they influence blood sugar levels in your body. Highly processed carbs, like white bread, have a high glycemic index and should be enjoyed in modest quantities. Foods like oily fish have a low glycemic impact. This doesn’t mean you should give up bread. The good news is that you can modify the glycemic impact of foods by combining them in a single meal and even ordering their intake. For example, the glycemic impact of carbs is much lower if you eat them following protein and vegetables rather than before.
In general terms, when we eat highly glycemic foods, they produce an inflammatory response in our bodies. Inflammation accelerates aging. It’s an inevitable part of our existence, but the more we can avoid it, the better health we enjoy.
This is a no brainer, yet many people smoke. Studies indicate that smoking can increase your risk of dementia by 70%.
Know Your Numbers
One common form of dementia is vascular dementia, which occurs when the brain is damaged by poor blood flow. High blood pressure can increase your risk for dementia. For a multiple of health reasons, you should have your BP checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a history of high blood pressure in your family, you should address this with your physician.
Another one of those things that’s good for us in many ways is fasting. When you fast, your body is deprived of nutrients and it begins to consume some of the detritus of recent metabolism. This housecleaning process, known as autophagy clears out dead cells and pathogens. Commonly, fasting is presented as going without food for a whole day. The good news is you can trigger autophagy simply by leaving three hours between your last meal of the day and going to bed and then not eating for 12 hours.
Sleep On It
In our busy lives, it seems like an easy fix to cut back on sleep. That might be a huge mistake when it comes to brain health. Good quality, regular sleep is needed to help the brain cleanse itself. One study suggests that having just one bad night of sleep in a middle-aged adult can produce an increase in a brain protein associated with Alzheimer’s.
Brain health is directly correlated to the exercise we do. The improved circulation helps cleanse our brains and keep them healthy. Any exercise is better than none, but you should shoot for 20 to 30 minutes of brisk activity four to six times/week.
You may have read of the person who smoked two packs a day, ate glazed doughnuts every morning for breakfast, never worked out and slept just 4 hours per night who lived in great health into his 90s. You also have heard of folks who scrupulously followed these rules and yet developed dementia in their 50s. Both of these types of people are out there.
Sadly, some are destined to develop dementia no matter what due to their genetics. Some will never get it. But a great many of us MIGHT get it, depending on how we live our lives and we can significantly reduce the probability through healthy lifestyle choices.
About the Author:
Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.
They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist. In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.
Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.
Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones. He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio. He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.