The mere thought of dementia and other cognitive problems can frighten the best of us, especially if you have witnessed a loved one battling the condition. While you may have been told to wait (and hope) until researchers find a pharmaceutical cure to this ailment, the truth is much more encouraging.
We are all well aware of the fact that the symptoms of dementia are irreversible and unfortunately, as time passes, behavioral, mental and physical problems tend to progress. It is also commonly known that age is the biggest risk factor of dementia and that there’s no cure for it.
The good news is that there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing dementia. We all know that it’s never too young or too old to develop good habits, but mid-age (between 40 – 60) is the best time to start making healthy lifestyle choices (i.e. if you are not already doing so). This will not only help you live a healthier life but doing so will also slow down any early symptoms of dementia (which you may or may not have noticed).
More than 5.5 million Americans of all ages are living with dementia. While the 5.3 million are estimated to be above the age of 65 years, 200,000 individuals are said to be younger than 65. Although the disease is still incurable, promising research suggests that the condition can be prevented or slowed down by making some lifestyle changes.
Here are our top tips that will help you reduce your risk of dementia;
- Exercise regularly and eat healthy
Research suggest that taking part in physical activities for 30 minutes, at least five times a week, can considerably reduce your risk of dementia by up to 50%. Additionally, exercise can also slow down further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive issues. This is mainly because exercise directly benefits the brain by improving blood and oxygen flow to the brain cells.
You don’t have to join a gym or enroll in a challenging workout program to perform physical activity. A simple walk in the park, cycling around the block, swimming, or taking dance classes are sufficient to get your heart pumping and break a sweat.
Along with exercise, taking heart-healthy meals have also been said to slow dementia in its early stages. A healthy diet for brain should involve limiting sugar intake and saturated fats while increasing the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Furthermore, omega-3 has also been known to reduce the risk of dementia. A recent study conducted by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that participants who took high levels of omega-3 in their diet had better blood flow in the areas of the brain that are responsible for learning. Foods that are rich in omega-3 include a variety of cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, seaweed, and sardines. You can also use quality fish oil supplements.
- Be mentally active
Mentally challenging activities such as learning a new skill, going for formal education or adopting a new hobby can certainly have long or short-term benefits for your brain. To keep the mind active, it is important that you participate in activities that stimulate your brain every day.
Some activities to try include:
- Learning something new such as taking up French classes, playing a new musical instrument, or reading an interesting book.
- Participating in brain teasers such as puzzles, crossword puzzles, chess, scrabble, or Sudoku.
- Memorizing something worthwhile. Start with something short such as the 50 U.S. state capitals or verses from the Bible.
- Visiting different places or taking a new route to home.
- Be socially active
Humans are social animals and we don’t like feeling lonely. Well, guess what, our brains also don’t thrive in a secluded environment.
As a matter of fact, research shows that people who are regularly engaged in social activities have better brain health.
Of course, you don’t have to be a social butterfly or the life of every party to be socially active, but you do regularly need to connect with loved ones and spend time with them to remain social. Many of us become lonely as we get older. But it’s never too late (or too old) to develop new friendships.
Some ways to remain socially active include:
- Joining a club
- Hanging out with the neighbors
- Going to the park
- Visiting an orphanage
- Connecting with others through social media platforms
- Stress management
Chronic stress can take a toll on brain health and result in shrinkage of brain areas that are responsible for learning and memorization. This, in turn, increases the chance of developing dementia but you can safely steer clear of it by implementing simple stress management techniques such as:
- Deep breathing
- Regularly meditating or praying
- Taking part in yoga or other relaxation activities
- Keeping a good sense of humor by reading jokes, watching comedy videos, etc.
- Taking walks in the park
- Getting quality sleep at night
Other tips to reduce the risk of dementia
Remember, what’s good for the body is good for the brain as well and whatever is bad for the body is bad for the brain too. Hence, here are some other habits that will help with a healthy brain and healthy body;
- Quit smoking: Although it has long been established that smoking damages the heart and lungs, new studies also state that smoking is equally bad for the brain. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers.
- Limit alcohol intake: Although more research is needed on its risk factors, health experts suggest drinking in moderation as excessive alcohol intake can deteriorate the brain extensively.
- Keep overall health in check: Control blood pressure, monitor cholesterol levels, and maintain a healthy weight.
- Increase intake of vitamin D: Existing theories suggest that those with low levels of Vitamin D are at a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s later on in life. Vitamin D levels can easily be increased by exposure to the sun, taking supplements, and eating foods rich in the vitamins such as fatty fish, liver, egg yolk, and cheese.
Moreover, research suggests that combining a healthy diet with physical, mental, and social activities can go a long way in preventing dementia. In fact, a two-year-old clinical trial of older adults, who were already at risk, showed decline in cognitive impairment when a combination of physical, mental, social, and nutritional guidelines were provided to them.
Remember, it’s never too late to start incorporating good habits. So, start today and you will soon realize how better lifestyle choices will improve your overall quality of life. Don’t forget that a healthy body plus a healthy brain equals to a better and safe future.