Your lifestyle choices can have a big impact on your brain health. Here are eight ways you can reduce your chance of developing dementia…
1/ Get more exercise
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that being physically active will reduce your risk of developing dementia. In fact, when looking at the combined results of 11 studies on middle-aged people and the effects of physical exercise, Alzheimer’s Society states regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent, with the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease dropping by 45 per cent.
‘There is evidence now from randomised controlled clinical trials that certain levels of aerobic exercise result in an increased blood flow to the frontal lobes of the brain in individuals with symptoms of mild cognitive impairment,’ says Dr Emer MacSweeney, CEO & Medical Director of brain health experts, Re:Cognition Health (http://www.re-cognitionhealth.com).
Regular cardiovascular exercise could also reduce the risk of vascular dementia – a common form of dementia caused by impaired blood supply to the brain. ‘It’s well known that exercise, such as running, can control blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels,’ says Dr MacSweeney. ‘Risk factors for vascular dementia include high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Therefore, controlling blood pressure is one of the most important factors in reducing the development of vascular disease in the brain.’
Exercising regularly is clearly one of the best things you can do to protect yourself against developing dementia – so get active!
2/ Sleep well, stress less
Sleep helps your brain clear away toxins, plaques and proteins that build up during the day, so it’s vital you get six to eight hours of sleep each night, in order to protect against dementia.
Dr MacSweeney also states that lack of sleep or prolonged stress has a physical effect on the brain: ‘If you don’t get enough sleep, the hippocampus can shrink,’ she says.
If you struggle to switch off and de-stress at night, a daily 15-minute dose of meditation or yoga could help. This will have the added benefit of reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol (a known risk factor of dementia), too.
3/ Eat fresh
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet – packed full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, pulses, olive oil, grains and fish, and low in saturated fats, processed foods, sugar and preservatives – is a great way to lower your dementia risk. ‘Studies show that “bad” fats increase cholesterol levels, and those with high cholesterol appear to be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,’ says Dr MacSweeney. So, clean up your diet to protect your brain!
4/ Drink in moderation
Alcohol damages brain cells, causes brain shrinkage and interferes with the way the vitamin thiamine is absorbed into the body, which is essential for energy production (and the brain uses a lot of energy!), so it’s important to stick to the recommended guidelines. In fact, studies indicate that those who drink heavily or binge drink are more likely to develop dementia than those who drink within the recommended units. Think before you drink!
5/ Exercise your brain
‘Keeping your mind active is a good way to improve your brain health,’ says Dr MacSweeney. It seems the old adage, “If you don’t use it you lose it” is true! Sudoku, crosswords, puzzles, jigsaws and memory games are all great exercises for the mind.
6/ Stop smoking
The facts speak for themselves here: smokers have a 45 per cent higher risk of developing vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than non-smokers. Smoking narrows the blood vessels, which can deprive the brain of oxygen, and the toxic chemicals within cigarettes increase the risk of stroke and cognitive impairment. It’s time to stub it out!
7/ Have an annual check-up
‘Being overweight, and having high blood pressure and high cholesterol are risk factors for vascular dementia, so it’s important to stay at a healthy body weight and keep an eye on your blood pressure,’ says Dr MacSweeney. An annual visit to your GP for a blood pressure and cholesterol test will highlight any potential cause for concern, and you can help keep your weight in check by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
8/ Learn a second language
Research published in Neurology Today shows that being bilingual may delay the onset of dementia by around four and a half years. ‘Speaking two languages may lead to better development of the part of the brain that handles executive functions,’ says Dr MacSweeney. So, grab that phrasebook or sign up for lessons… and then book that mini-break abroad to practice!