By Jennifer Nelson
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .
During the last Alzheimer’s disease support meeting I attended at my mother’s assisted living center, I sheepishly asked if anyone else was worried about their own risk for the disease.
A lot of hands went up.
At age 65, your risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is 2% a year. If you have a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, that risk goes up by 30%, to 2.6% a year, according to the Harvard Men’s Health Watch.
However, that’s still a relatively small increase. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found 92% of us fear developing a degenerative brain disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s and 28% aren’t sure we can do anything about it.
“Everyone, as they age, faces changes in brain function — just like any other part of the body, our brains age,” says Dr. Marc Agronin, senior vice president of Behavioral Health and chief medical officer for the MIND Institute at Miami Jewish Health and author of “The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders.”
7 pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle
We know living a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing chronic illness and conditions like diabetes and heart disease. But now, research finds that living a brain-healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive decline.
The research on cognitive health and disease has homed in on seven pillars for living a brain-healthy lifestyle, which may in combination, slash your risk for brain-degenerative diseases.
Just keep in mind, however, that even if you performed all these pillars perfectly, it doesn’t mean you won’t get Alzheimer’s disease. Other factors, such as genetics, additional medical conditions that affect the brain and accidents, can’t always be controlled.
Pillar No. 1: Exercise
The mind-blowing research on exercise alone should get you moving.
A 44-year Swedish study that separated midlife women exercisers into low, moderate and high fitness levels found that women at the lowest fitness level were 45% less likely to develop dementia, while women in the top fitness level were 88% less likely.
It seems exercise reduces chronic inflammation and increases the release of a protein that’s good for brain cells. Plus, it improves your overall health, so you’re reducing cardiovascular dysfunction, your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all bad for your brain, explains Dr. Yuko Hara, who leads the Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention team at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.
Researchers recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise — walking, riding a stationary bicycle or whatever you love to do so you’ll stick with it — three to five times a week to gain the benefit.
Pillar No. 2: Diet
“The only diet that really has robust evidence showing risk reduction for dementia is what’s called the MIND diet,” Agronin says. It is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and what’s called the DASH diet, which is a low salt, healthy diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).
The MIND diet includes loads of fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, poultry, olive oil and one glass of wine (if you drink alcohol), while reducing processed foods, sugar, whole-fat dairy and red meat.