5 Expert-Approved Lifestyle Habits to Adopt That Protect You from Alzheimer’s Disease
Keep your noggin in tip-top shape with these little lifestyle changes.
If everyone in the United States added just one healthy habit, it might prevent or delay a million cases of Alzheimer’s disease that would otherwise be expected to occur over five years, says psychiatrist Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
Adopting these routine habits has never been more important. In fact, Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death for those ages 65 and older, according to a 2017 report from the Alzheimer’s Association. New data from the report revealed that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have skyrocketed 89 percent between 2000 and 2014, while deaths from heart disease have dropped 14 percent.
While research hasn’t yet proved that lifestyle changes can indefinitely ward off the disease, Small says in his book, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program — “if you read the small print, the evidence is compelling.” The oldest baby boomers are now reaching their late 60s to early 70s, an age when Alzheimer’s risk starts to climb. We asked Smalls which lifestyle changes are the best for staving off Alzheimer’s disease. Try incorporating these 36 everyday habits into your daily routine to lower your risk for Alzheimer’s even more!
Go for a power walk
For overall good health, it should come as no surprise that a doctor’s go-to prescription is a well-balanced diet and regular exercise routine. (Steal these secrets from 18 women who work out everyday.) But studies have shown that when couch potatoes start a fitness program, it’s not just arm and leg muscles that bulk up; key portions of the brain do too. Researchers in Wisconsin measured the daily physical activity of 93 adults in their mid-sixties for a week and then scanned their brains to see how their exercise routine effected their cognitive functions. All of the participants were at high-risk for developing Alzheimers because they had at least one parent with Alzheimer’s disease, at least one gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease, or both. Their findings revealed that people who spent at least 68 minutes a day doing moderate-intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk, had better glucose metabolism in their brains — a function that tends to be depressed in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease — than people who were sedentary or exercised at a lower intensity. “You can build brain muscle,” says Dr. Small. “You don’t have to become a triathlete — park your car a bit of a distance from your destination. Take one flight of stairs. Start slowly and build up.” This is how often and how long you should be working out according to a personal trainer.
Nurture your relationships
Crossword puzzles get all the attention, but mental challenges of all kinds—like socializing or these 7 genius morning brain boosters—appear to help ward off Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Small. Take an art class, talk politics with a friend, go out on a lunch date with a loved one, anything that keeps you social will earn you big rewards in the fun department and health department. In fact, some studies suggest that having a network of friends can lower your rate of cognitive decline by as much as 70 percent. For a healthy brain, break these everyday habits now for good!
Feed your brain
Want to keep all your marbles? Eat a hearty diet, but keep the portions and junk food in moderation. “If you’re overweight at midlife, it doubles your risk for dementia,” says Dr. Small. “If you’re obese, it quadruples it.” A Mediterranean-style diet heavy on the fruit and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein like fish (Use this cheat sheet to make your Mediterranean diet easier.) is good for your heart and overall wellbeing because it lowers the risk of diabetes — a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s. A 2015 study showed that adults who ate a Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (designed to treat high blood pressure) or a diet that combined the best of both diets known as the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. Even small swaps to the MIND diet such as eating two vegetable servings a day, two berry servings a week, and one fish meal per week, appeared to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (Here are the 9 tricks you must try to make your meals more Mediterranean.) But before scientists can conclude a definitive link between diet and cognitive decline, more research needs to be conducted since most of the data is self-reported. But these 7 breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research will give you hope that scientists are closer to a cure.
Relax, relax, relax
An endless continuum of stress is detrimental to both your body and mental sanity, which could negatively impact your longevity down the road. (These are the 8 signs stress is making you sick.) One study found that people who were easily stressed were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over about a five-year period than calmer people. To quell that anxiety, a quick meditation routine of “oms” and “ahs” may be just the ticket you need to keep your mental state and brain in tip top shape. Some studies suggest that meditation may actually increase the size of the parts of your brain that control memory. For an added brain boost, try listening to music at the same time as you meditate. But if meditation isn’t right for you, try tai chi, spending a day at the spa, or taking a leisurely after-dinner walk with a friend to decompress your nerves and release that stress. “Whatever you do, don’t stress about your Alzheimer’s prevention plan,” says Dr. Small. “Baby steps can take you a long way.” If you don’t know where to begin, try practicing mindfulness in the morning to wake up your soul.
Pop a daily supplement
Dr. Small recommends taking a multivitamin or supplements to help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. “As we get older, we don’t always absorb all the nutrients we need,” Dr. Small says. “I see it as insurance.” Fish oil provides your body with lots of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which helps keep your cognitive function on track. But like most things, moderation is key. Fish oil megadoses that exceed three grams a day can lead to gastrointestinal issues, vitamin imbalances, and potentially increase your cholesterol. Curcumin, the compound found in turmeric, may also reduce inflammation in the body and prevent brain changes related to Alzheimer’s but much more research is needed to confirm its potential brain-boosting power. Doctors say you need to stop wasting your money on these eight supplements.