Leading a healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. No specific strategy can prevent Alzheimer’s, but making healthy lifestyle choices promotes good overall health, which in turn reduces cognitive decline.
Good to Know
There is no conclusive evidence that any specific strategy or activity can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease at the time of writing. However, some of the key factors associated with leading a healthy lifestyle promote good overall health, and that may eventually prove to have a positive impact on reducing the risk for all dementias.
Being physically active, exercising your brain, and eating a healthy diet is currently your best bet against developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In this post, we’ll explore these important lifestyle factors and other healthy choices that are most often associated with preventing Alzheimer’s. Let’s get right on to it.
Control High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure promotes cognitive decline, especially when it appears in midlife. Why this happens is not entirely clear, but the brain is a vascular organ that receives 1/5 of your body’s total blood supply, so it is susceptible to vascular damage. Up to 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from cardiovascular disease according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
High blood pressure can cause cerebrovascular damage, which may be linked not just to strokes or gray matter shrinkage, but also to the plaques and tangles in the brain currently associated with Alzheimer’s. While more research is needed to clearly understand the link between vascular disease and dementia, controlling vascular risk factors is important.
What’s more, significantly reducing systolic blood pressure can lower your risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment, a condition involving cognitive decline that often precedes Alzheimer’s.
Tips to control high blood pressure:
- Check your blood pressure at home and tell your doctor if you have readings above 130/80 mm Hg.
- Exercise regularly—more tips on this later in this post.
- Reduce your salt intake.
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking.
- Lower stress through reading, taking long walks, and meditating.
- Stay active and follow a healthy diet to shed excess weight.
Because it doesn’t necessarily cause obvious symptoms, high blood pressure can go undetected for years, so it’s really important to check your blood pressure regularly.
Stimulate Your Mind
Continued learning, cognitive training, and other activities that stimulate the mind help exercise the brain and may slow cognitive decline. Cognitive training in older adults improves mental skills and can help them perform daily activities with greater ease years later. Continued activities that stimulate the mind can also lower the risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment.
Here are some tips for stimulating your mind:
- Read for at least half an hour every day—it doesn’t only engage the mind, but can add years to your life.
- Take part in local cognitive training programs offered by educational or research institutions.
- Constantly learn something new—learn a craft, practice a musical instrument, or study a foreign language. The more complex the task, the better.
- Play board games or cards with friends or family.
- Do crossword puzzles or play Sudoku or Scrabble.
- Explore more of your surroundings and try new routes home.
- Vary your habits to create new brain pathways.
- Learn to brush your teeth or eat with your left hand (or right, if you’re a lefty!).
When it comes to stimulating your mind, it’s best to do it every day to reap all the benefits. For example, it’s better to read or play complex games for half an hour every day than to do it for 3-4 hours on weekends only.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Some diets improve cognitive vitality. While more research is needed to determine whether specific diets can prevent Alzheimer’s, many diets prove healthy alternatives to takeout or processed foods. Healthy diets also encourage you to avoid sugary beverages, refined grains like white bread and pasta, processed meat, and unhealthy oils.
Three different diets are commonly associated with cognitive benefits:
- The Mediterranean diet includes fats that are healthy for the heart and brain and can slow cognitive decline. It features vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, and olive oil. Following this diet means giving up on or eating less red meat, poultry, eggs, and cheese.
- The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet helps lower blood pressure. It focuses on whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, lean meat, and low-fat dairy. While on this diet, you have to avoid fatty foods, salty foods, beverages rich in sugar, pastries, chips, candy, and cookies.
- The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet brings together the best foods for brain health from the two previously mentioned diets. It was designed to help prevent dementia. The emphasis is on green leafy vegetables, fish, poultry, nuts, beans, berries, and whole grains. In observational studies, this diet has been associated with a slower decline in cognition.
It’s important to remember that there is currently no evidence to suggest that any particular food can prevent Alzheimer’s. Be careful about hyped superfoods—it’s better to spend money on an all-around healthy diet than expect wonders from any miracle food.
Increase Physical Activity and Exercise Often
Exercising regularly helps you reduce the risk of cognitive decline. It’s not yet been confidently established that any specific exercising routine can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s but staying physically active has many health benefits. Notably, it can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, two conditions frequently associated with Alzheimer’s.
Here are some tips to increase your physical activity and exercise more:
- Join an aerobics class that focuses on high-intensity exercises.
- Go for a walk every day.
- Take the steps instead of using the elevator.
- Ride a bike around the nearest park or your neighborhood.
- Do weight and resistance training two to three times a week to boost brain health.
- Perform exercises that promote healthy balance and coordination.
- Do some yoga.
- Go on hiking trips.
If you embark on a training routine, make sure to factor in other underlying conditions you may have, such as heart conditions or diabetes.
Get Good Sleep Every Night
The neurobiological processes that occur during sleep play an important role in brain health. Sleep deprivation or sleep disturbances increase the buildup of the protein amyloid, which has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Prioritizing sleep and following healthy sleep patterns as you age can help keep your brain healthy into old age. Here are some tips:
- Go to sleep and wake up around the same hours every day to establish a healthy sleep schedule—this is good for your body’s natural biological rhythm.
- Leave your TV and computer out of the bedroom as it may affect the quality of your sleep.
- Avoid using LED devices for at least one hour before going to bed.
- If you wake during the night and can’t fall asleep, get up and read a book to encourage sleep.
- Limit alcohol intake for six hours before going to bed as alcohol disrupts REM sleep.
- Ensure the room you sleep in is not too hot—a comfortably cool temperature promotes good sleep.
Another thing to remember is that sleep can affect your immune system. When you sleep for at least 7-8 hours every night, you give your immune system a healthy boost.
Be Socially Engaged
Social engagement is good for the brain. We are highly social by our natures, even though life in the 21st century may challenge that at times. Remaining socially engaged is especially important as we grow older. After retirement, many senior citizens may end up feeling lonely and even isolated, and this can take its toll on brain health.
Getting out of the house to a park or café, interacting with neighbors, joining a social club, or taking group classes can all increase social engagement. The thing to remember is that you have to encourage social engagement naturally. You don’t have to go out of your way to be social. If you’re an introvert rather than a social butterfly, that’s perfectly fine! The important thing is to socialize—at your own pace.
The Bottom Line
While ongoing research tries to discover new strategies for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, there are plenty of things you can do right now to promote brain health and slow cognitive decline.
Controlling high blood pressure, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly can have a big impact on your brain health. Getting proper sleep every night and stimulating your mind are just as important. Last but not least, being socially engaged also matters. More than boosting brain health, these activities can all be pleasurable in themselves.
In the end, Alzheimer’s disease risk reduction at this point is all about doing all you can to have a healthy mind in a healthy body. It’s not hard or expensive—it just requires willpower, persistence, and thoughtfulness.