One of the biggest headlines that emerged from The Alzheimer's Association International Conference® (AAIC) 2017 suggested that an estimated 1 in 3 cases of dementia is preventable. To help safeguard your brain and mental health, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project™, recommends following the SHIELD plan, which emphasizes a multi-faceted approach to avoid disease. The six components of the plan include sleeping, handling stress, interacting with others, exercising, learning new things, and following a healthy diet.
Amyloid plaque develops in the brain to protect brain cells and overall, more plaque is produced when you are awake. However, when there is too much plaque in the brain, it can interfere with cell function and bind to nerve cells, harming them over time. During sleep, amyloid plaque production decreases and the brain is able to produce more fluid to clean out excess plaque. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night to ensure your brain has the chance to carry out this cleanup process.
Experts agree that reducing stress benefits the entire body, especially the brain. Dr. Deepak Chopra, who co-authored Super Genes with Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, recommends adopting a short and regular meditation practice to help relieve stress. Start meditating now with this quick exercise that takes less than one minute: Keep your eyes open but soft, without focusing on anything. Inhale for four seconds, pause, and then exhale. Repeat the four-second inhalation again and let your awareness float upwards toward the sky. Let your body relax and take a moment to rest before continuing on with your day.
Interact With Others
Studies suggest that loneliness can lead to additional stress and may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Prioritize social engagement and stay in touch with family members and friends. If you’re physically separated from loved ones, call and speak to them on a recurring basis and seek out a social support network to stay healthy.
Keeping your heart rate up not only helps prevent cardiovascular disease, it can also fight back against Alzheimer’s disease as well. Not a gym-goer? Start with aerobic exercise and go for a power walk at least once a week. If you don’t exercise regularly, work your way up to three times a week for 30-45 minutes. If you aren’t motivated to exercise, switch up your workouts and try new ones that may interest you.
Learn New Things
Along with physical exercise, mental exercise is just as important in preventing and delaying the onset of cognitive decline. Studying and learning new skills can build new nerve connections that maintain optimal brain health. Try adopting a new hobby, learning a new language, or playing a new musical instrument.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to benefit your brain the most. On the diet, you’ll eat more fruits and vegetables, nuts, and olive oil, and cut back on red meat consumption. If you have high blood pressure, the DASH diet offers similar benefits as well. Other studies have also suggested a correlation between diet soda consumption and decreased brain volume and increased brain aging. Avoid artificially-sweetened drinks to lower your risk of stroke and dementia, especially if you drink diet soda every day.
Print this one-sheet graphic for easy reference to the entire SHIELD plan.