In our youth it’s both easy and common to take our bodies and our brains for granted. We indulge ourselves because the consequences are not yet tangible to us and we burn the candle at both ends because life is short and it’s better to live fast and die young than to grow old and be filled with regrets. As we reach maturity, however, and approach retirement age, our perspective is somewhat more cautious. We think a lot more about what the future holds. And as we get older, many of us start to think more and more about Alzheimer’s disease.
Many of us assume that Alzheimer’s is an unavoidable fate written in our genetic code, especially if one or both of our parents developed the condition. But while age and genetic history are certainly both risk factors, by no means are you powerless to mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s whether you’re in your advanced years or still relatively young, there are a number of lifestyle changes which can mitigate your risk of Alzheimer’s or slow the effects of cognitive decline.
While we still don’t know for sure what causes Alzheimer’s disease, we do know that taking the following measures in your lifestyle can help to reduce your risk of its onset...
1- Exercise whenever you can, however you can
No matter what your age or current lifestyle, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of regular exercise. If you’re in your middle years now, studies indicate that you could be up to 88% less likely to suffer from dementia later in life if you exercise regularly. Exercise increases the number of small blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, while also promoting connections between nerve cells and raising nerve growth factor to help improve memory and learning.
One study in particular demonstrated that older people who exercised daily showed improved connectivity in the part of the brain engaged in daydreaming, thinking about the future and recalling past events. While anything from a brisk walk to a jaunt on the treadmill can be useful exercise but be more aware if you do use a medical walker from time to time, strength training may also be a great way to mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s.
2- Load up on antioxidants
As we get older, uncharged molecules called free radicals can build up in our nerve cells, causing damage that might contribute to Alzheimer’s. Free radicals are highly chemically reactive making them potentially harmful to the human body.
What’s more, they’re found in everything from red meat to sunlight.
Fortunately, there are natural compounds which can mitigate the danger done by free radicals- antioxidants. These are abundant in the plant kingdom, meaning that a wholefoods plant-based diet can go a long way towards preventing free-radical damage. However, if you don’t think that you could go full-vegan, you may fare better on a Mediterranean diet, which brings us to...
3- Don’t fear fats
If the idea of going fully plant-based is a bit too extreme a transition for you, a Medidettanean diet filled with healthy fats like olive oil and oily fish as well as lots of fresh vegetables and fruits may also be advantageous. One epidemiological study revealed that those on a “Mediterranean diet” had a 28% percent lower risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) as well as a 48 percent lower risk of progressing from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease.
Getting more healthy fats and fewer saturated or trans fats can make all the difference.
4- Get plenty of sleep
Sleep not only helps us maintain good immune function, recover from injuries and maintain lean muscle mass, it can also help to keep cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s at bay.
According to Dr. Gad Marshall, of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital; “Growing evidence suggests that improved sleep can help prevent Alzheimer's and is linked to greater amyloid clearance from the brain”.
Seniors should aim to get 7-9 hours’ sleep every night.
5- Stay social
An active social life really is its own reward. However, staying socially stimulated also helps us to stay cognitively stimulated, while a lonely and solitary existence can leave our minds unchallenged for long periods of time.
Several observational studies link cognitive health in later years with social engagement through either part-time work, volunteering, or living with someone either at home or in a shared living facility.
6- Try new things
Trying new things like reading different kinds of books, learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument is a great way to keep you feeling young, but it can also play a large part in maintaining good cognitive health.
As well as potentially mitigating your risk of Alzheimer’s and maintaining cognitive functions, this can also enrich your retirement and make it more enjoyable.
7- Make a friend of moderation when it comes to your alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol regularly and to excess is ruinous for all aspects of your health. However, observational studies have shown that moderate consumption of red wine is actually associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Laboratory studies with animals have shown that resveratrol (a natural compound found in red grapes) can reduce beta-amyloid deposits in the brain, affecting the biological processes of aging-related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
8- Play video games
We normally associate video games with the younger generation, but video games can actually aid cognitive engagement and concentration as well as memory and recall. What’s more, they’re a great way to let off steam which brings us to...
9- Take steps to reduce stress
Recent studies indicate that stress can actually exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease, hastening its onset and amplifying its effects.
Taking the time to do the things that help relieve stress like exercise, meditation or doing the things you enjoy can go a long way towards making Alzheimer’s more manageable.
10- Stay in touch with your doctor
Finally, nobody knows your mind and body better than your doctor. Staying in regular contact with them and attending regular checkups can make all the difference in mitigating your risk of Alzheimer’s whatever your age.