More than 5 million Americans, including an estimated 220,000 people in Illinois, are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, nearly one in every three seniors who die each year has Alzheimer’s disease or another related dementia. Without any way to prevent, cure, or even slow down the progression of this growing health crisis, these numbers will only continue to soar at a staggering rate.
However, growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits. When possible, the Alzheimer’s Association ® recommends combining these habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body.
“Our brain health, no matter what our age, can be maintained or potentially improved through our habits,” Melanie Adams, director of education and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter, says. “Research shows that applying these healthy behaviors to everyday lives, such as staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a heart-healthy diet, can potentially spare us from cognitive decline. It is never too early, or too late, to make positive changes in your health.”
To promote this healthy and active behavior, the Alzheimer’s Association offers “10 Ways to Love Your Brain,” tips to help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.
1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body.
2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
4. Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
5. Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia, so wear a seat belt and use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike.
6. Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
7. Catch some Zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
8. Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
9. Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community. If you love animals; consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program.
10. Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Think strategically. Do something artistic. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.
Start now. Whether you are personally affected by this disease or not, it is never too late or too early to incorporate these healthy habits into your lifestyle.