Find out what you can do to stave off the leading cause of dementia.
While there is no known cure for Alzheimer's, you can make certain tweaks to your daily routine which will not only boost your health but prevent this disease at the same time. In honor of World Alzheimer's Day, Dr. Richard Isaacson, the director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, has come up with seven ways to get your heart pumping, power up your brain, clean up your diet, and more. Read on to learn how to take charge of your health and make a lasting change.
The best diet for your brain is the Mediterranean diet. Think lots of leafy greens, whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains in moderation, lean protein, fatty fish (like salmon), and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil. A 2017 study in Neurology found that people in their 70s who consumed a Mediterranean diet lost less brain mass than people who ate a diet more typical of their native Scotland. “The brain shrinks as you age, and the nutrients in certain foods can help nourish and replenish brain cells,” says Dr. Isaacson.
According to one study, a bigger waistline can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s nearly threefold. “As the belly size gets larger, the memory center in the brain gets smaller,” says Dr. Isaacson. “Exercise can help to reduce body fat, and also be the brain’s first defense against that amyloid plaque, the bad sticky stuff that builds up in the brain of a person with the disease.” Aim to exercise at least three or four times a week for a minimum total of 150 minutes, with a mix of aerobic workouts and resistance/weight training.
Aim for 7.5 Hours of Sleep
When you get quality sleep, your brain can clean out those damaging amyloid plaques that build up throughout the day. Dr. Isaacson recommends having a plan to improve your sleep. This means turning off electronics at least an hour before going to bed.
For decades, studies, including this one in The Lancet, have repeatedly shown that maintaining relationships and social connections helps to stimulate the brain and may slow cognitive decline. “While we aren’t entirely sure why this is, it likely has something to do with the increasing neural connections that happen within the brain when we are engaged in mental and social stimulation,” Dr. Isaacson says.
Listen or Play Music
There is a growing body of research on music’s many benefits to the brain, whether starting early in life or in midlife. (Dr. Isaacson plays the bass guitar and joined a band called the Regenerates with several of his neuroscience colleagues.) Listening to music may also have some benefits, but playing it or singing is even better.
Challenge Your Brain
Use your mind — often. But that doesn’t mean just doing jigsaw or crossword puzzles, although studies have shown that those activities certainly don’t hurt. Dr. Isaacson stresses the importance of continuously working different parts of your brain — whether that’s learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby. “Learning something new, like a new language, helps to build vital backup pathways in the brain,” he says. “Learning new things helps to stimulate and challenge your mind, creating new connections within the brain’s neural pathways.”
Cut Back on Alcohol
A 2018 study showed that people who abstained from alcohol during midlife were at an increased risk of developing dementia, and people who had more than 14 units of alcohol per week (equivalent to seven medium glasses of wine or six pints of average-strength beer) were also at an increased risk. “The science behind alcohol and Alzheimer’s is still evolving, but in my clinical practice, I advise that women drink no more than 4-7 servings, and men drink no more than 7 10 servings, per week. Moderation is essential, and when in doubt, less is more,” says Dr. Isaacson.