7 rules to lower your risk of Alzheimer's and keep your brain healthy

Dr. Marc Agronin

At the last Alzheimer's Disease Support Meeting I attended in my mother's assisted living facility, I timidly asked if anyone else was concerned about their own risk for the disease.

Many hands went up.

At 65, your risk of developing Alzheimer's is 2% per year. If you have a parent with Alzheimer's disease, the risk increases by 30% to 2.6% per year, according to Harvard Men's Health Watch.

However, this is still a relatively small increase. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 92% of us fear developing degenerative brain disease such as dementia or Alzheimer's, and 28% are unsure if we can do anything about it ,

Dr. Marc Agronin
Dr. Marc Agronin

"With increasing age, everyone is faced with changes in brain function – just like every other part of the body, our brain also ages," says Dr. Marc Agronin, Senior Vice President for Behavioral Health and Chief Medical Officer of the MIND Institute in Miami Jewish Health and author of the book The Dementia Caregiver: A guide to caring for people with Alzheimer's and other neurocognitive disorders,

7 pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle

We know that a healthy lifestyle is the key to preventing chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. However, research has shown that a healthy brain lifestyle can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, dementia and other cognitive disorders.

The stunning research into sport alone should get you moving.

Research on cognitive health and disease states is based on seven pillars for a brain-healthy lifestyle, which in combination can lower your risk of brain-degenerative diseases.

However, keep in mind that this doesn't mean you won't get Alzheimer's, even if you've done all of these pillars perfectly. Other factors, such as genetics, additional diseases that affect the brain, and accidents cannot always be controlled.

Pillar 1: Exercise

The stunning research into sport alone should get you moving.

A 44-year-old Swedish study that divided middle-aged athletes into low, moderate, and high fitness levels found that women with the lowest fitness level were 45% less likely to develop dementia than women with the highest fitness level were 88% less likely to do so.

Dr. Yuko Hara
Dr. Yuko Hara

It appears that exercise relieves chronic inflammation and increases the release of a protein that is good for the brain cells. It also improves your overall health, reducing cardiovascular dysfunction, risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which are bad for your brain, explains Dr. Yuko Hara, head of the Alzheimer's and Alzheimer's prevention team at the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation.

The researchers recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity – walking, cycling, or whatever you'd like to do to keep you going – three to five times a week to get the benefit.

Pillar # 2: Diet

"The only diet that has really reliable evidence of a risk reduction in dementia is the so-called MIND diet," says Agronin. It is a combination of the Mediterranean and the so-called DASH diet, a low-salt and healthy diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).

The MIND diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, poultry, olive oil, and a glass of wine (if you drink alcohol), while reducing processed foods, sugar, whole milk products, and red meat.

A healthy diet produces more brain tissue volume, more gray matter, a larger hippocampus (which controls memory) and reduces the risk of developing dementia. This emerges from a study published in 2018 and carried out by researchers from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

"We may not know all of the mechanisms why healthy eating protects brain health," says Hara. However, the MIND diet is filled with antioxidants and polyphenols from fruits and vegetables as well as anti-inflammatory properties like omega-3 fatty acids from fish and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – all in connection with dementia.

Pillar No. 3: Mental Fitness

Learning builds up cognitive reserves. This is your brain's ability to function optimally despite the changes that occur with age. Learning also helps the brain resist cognitive decline.

"Studies have shown that especially cognitive activities in middle and late age are associated with the delayed onset of cognitive decline," says Hara. Lifelong learning is fundamental to improving brain health, increasing cognitive activity, and fighting Alzheimer's and dementia.

So sign up. Choose everything that interests you. Learn an instrument, learn a language or go to a class. When you work, try to learn something new every week. Read, take an online course, learn the Latin names of plants in your garden, or anything else you want to know. Then keep learning.

"Research has shown that middle and late age cognitive activity is particularly associated with the delayed onset of cognitive decline."

Pillar 4: Social Interaction

Scientists have found that people with few social contacts who feel lonely or isolated have a 26% increase in dementia and a slight cognitive decline. Some studies also suggest that lonely people have higher levels of amyloid and tau in the brain, biological indicators of Alzheimer's disease. The relationship between loneliness and dementia is still unclear, but may be related to depression or lack of stimulation.

If you are geographically separated from the family, have lost a spouse, or tend to isolate with fewer social contacts with age, you should improve your social game. Telephone or video messages with distant family members and friends or participation in groups such as walkers and museum visitors. Establish or maintain strong relationships with a childhood neighbor, friend, or beast. Talk, visit and interact with others. Your brain depends on it.

Pillar 5: sleep

Poor sleep is also associated with Alzheimer's disease and an increase in the presence of amyloid and tau. "However, we don't know exactly whether bad sleep leads to Alzheimer's or Alzheimer's leads to bad sleep," says Hara.

Despite this chicken and egg puzzle, experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Practice good sleep hygiene, e.g. B. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. If you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia, talk to your doctor and get treatment. Disorders such as sleep apnea deprive the brain of oxygen during sleep, which affects its function over time.

Don't just take sleeping pills as they are also linked to dementia, says Agronin.

Pillar 6: stress

A high level of stress is associated with memory problems and reduced brain volume. In addition, the hormone cortisol that is produced during stress can damage the cells needed for learning and memory, Agronin says.

If you are under stress, you need to learn how to deal with stress. Practice what works best for you: yoga, meditation, going for a walk, playing with a pet, listening to music, knitting, reading a novel, doing handicrafts in the garage or anything that you find comfortable and relaxing.

Pillar 7: general health

The diseases most commonly related to brain health include type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. For example, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop dementia as vascular dementia and 73% more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's, says Hara.

Depression is another risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's.

Caring for your overall medical and mental health plays a crucial role in a healthy brain lifestyle. You should see your doctor regularly, have annual checkups, and treat any chronic illness that you have.

Agronin also recommends maintaining a positive attitude towards aging and promoting a strong sense of purpose. Volunteering, focusing on relationships, and interest in civic, religious, or spiritual associations can have a strong impact on a brain-healthy lifestyle.

By Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based writer who also writes for MSNBC, FOXnews, and AARP.

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