November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month; Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and causes problems with one’s thinking, memory, and behavior. While there is no cure that has been developed, you can take steps to help reduce your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s as you age. Here are five things you can do to reduce that risk:
- Exercise. 80% of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease. Doctors believe that the increased blood and oxygen flow in the brain during exercise may help prevent cognitive decline as you age. If exercise has always been part of your lifestyle, keep it up! If not, now is the time to get started by doing something as simple as taking morning walks around the neighborhood, or joining a water aerobics class at the local gym.
- Sleep. There are small protein clusters in brains called amyloids; these amyloids are partly to blame for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. Amyloids are flushed out of the brain while you sleep, so getting seven to eight hours of good sleep a night gives your body enough time to clean out the amyloids. Try making the bedroom a quiet and peaceful room by eliminating blue lights (like the TV) and sound, and try to go to bed at the same time every night.
- Learn new things. Cognitively stimulating activities, especially things that make the brain learn new things, are thought to help prevent Alzheimer’s. Try learning things that require memorization, like the capitals of every country in the world, a new language, or a new musical instrument. You can also vary your learned habits so that you retrain your brain—eat with your non-dominant hand, or find new routes to complete your errands.
- Eat healthy. Research suggests that omega-3 fats, like those in cold-water fish like salmon, reduce the plaque that develops in your brain and causes Alzheimer’s. Try following the Mediterranean diet, which is an example of a food plan that includes a wide variety of whole foods and omega-3 fats that doctors recommend.
- Maintain social connections. Research shows that people who are regularly engaged in social interactions and activities are also better able to maintain healthy cognitive functions; loneliness has been linked to cognitive impairment. Try joining a walking group, volunteer at a community center, or make a weekly date with friends.
Whether or not you’re seeing signs of memory loss, it’s important to be as healthy as possible as you age. There are only positive outcomes to a healthy lifestyle and strong social life.