It’s likely that you either know someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. We have witnessed others watch their loved ones suffer from this devastating type of dementia. An estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, and the numbers continue to grow in a disproportionate fashion. Although there’s no cure, there is promising research that suggests that simple ”brain-healthy lifestyle changes can have a major impact on preventing the disease. “It’s clear that the health of your brain and the health of your body are connected,”
So what can you do now to bolster your chances of developing Alzheimer’s later? Here are 6 ‘brain healthy habits that may help stave off the disease.
Researchers are taking a long look at how diet and exercise may affect our chances of developing Alzheimer’s. A 2011 study revealed that in the U.S. alone, specific risk factors like physical inactivity and mid-life obesity were associated with more than half of diagnosed Alzheimer’s cases. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (like walking, swimming, gardening, etc.) five times a week. You should also incorporate some strength training. Moderate levels of weight and resistance training will help you maintain brain health. For those over 65, adding 2-3 strength training sessions to your weekly routine may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
Have a heart-healthy diet.
There’s strong evidence linking heart health to brain health—and that connection points specifically to heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet and its protective brain attributes. Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, nuts, and fish and low in trans or saturated fats. “The heart pumps blood to the brain, and the brain—although only weighing 3 lbs—receives 25 percent of the cardiac output,” explains Dr. Khalsa. “That’s why it’s well known that lifestyle actions that work to build a better heart also keep your brain fit.”
Stimulate your mind.
Research has found that keeping your brain active seems to increase its vitality. Life-long mental stimulation may build its reserves of brain cells and even generate new ones. People with higher levels of education appear to be somewhat protected against Alzheimer’s, possibly because brain cells and their connections are stronger. Keep your brain active daily by doing crossword puzzles and number games like Sudoku. Commit to life-long learning by reading and writing, enrolling in a course, and attending lectures and plays. Doing memory exercises is also beneficial.
Get quality sleep.
You need to stick to a regular sleep schedule (at least 8 hours per night) to make sure that your brain is functioning at its best. A night of deep sleep is imperative for memory formation and retention. So if you’re depriving yourself of shuteye, you may be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual (like taking a hot bath or doing some light stretches) and set the mood for sleep (e.g. turn off the TV and turn off computers and cell phones). If you don’t get enough sleep, napping always helps. Recharge your battery by nodding off for no more than 30-minutes in the early afternoon.
Manage stress effectively.
Major stress can take its toll on the brain and lead to shrinkage in a key memory area known as the hippocampus. This can affect nerve cell growth and increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Learn to minimize stress by making relaxation a priority. Practice restorative breathing which will raise oxygen levels in the brain, take walks in the park, play with your pet, do yoga, meditate, take a soothing bath—whatever it takes to make you feel less stressed out.
Maintain an active social life.
. In addition to diet and exercise, social connections appear to play a substantial role in the risk of Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that those who maintain strong connections are better able to deal with stress which enhances cognitive function. The link is both practical and deep, according to Dr. Khalsa. “From a practical sense, social interaction keeps a person thinking, helps reduce stress—which is bad for the brain—and neutralizes depression,” he says. Reach out to others via telephone, e-mail, and social networking. Participate in group activities (e.g. a gym class or community college course) and volunteer opportunities you enjoy.
Take an active role in making these habits part of your daily routine. The more you improve your physical fitness.
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