According to an organization called Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone develops dementia every three seconds. The number of people with the condition is expected to grow remarkably over the coming decades. Currently, estimates project around 50 million cases exist worldwide, and an additional 10 million cases are expected per year.
For a long time, Alzheimer’s and dementia seemed like they were an inevitable part of aging. And although some cognitive decline is normal within the life cycle, exactly how much is increasingly debated. There has been a strong amount of research in recent years suggesting that lifestyle factors can play a big role in reducing the risk for these conditions and protect brain health later in life.
In mid-May, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a list of lifestyle factors that may contribute to a lower risk for dementia. Getting a handle on the following may help you age more gracefully and protect your body and mind.
- Control Alcohol Intake: Studies show that there is a lower risk for dementia when people drink lightly or moderately. On the other hand, the risk goes up the more people drink. The relationship between alcohol intake and brain health may have to do with inflammation or toxicity in brain cells. Regardless of how alcohol affects risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s, be sure to consume alcohol at safe levels. A non-harmful amount of alcohol is typically defined as one standard-sized drink per day for women and two for men.
- Get Regular Exercise: Exercise is for more than the body – it helps the mind too. A stronger cardiovascular system improves brain health for its ability to pump nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to the brain. There is also evidence indicating that exercise may have a direct role in maintaining healthy brain cells. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week but get as much as you can.
- Don’t Smoke: Smoking is another factor associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia risk. It’s also bad for your heart and may negatively influence brain health from its effects on inflammation and oxygen restriction.
- Manage High Blood Pressure: Hypertension—having a blood pressure of 140/90 or more—is associated with higher dementia risk. Taking steps to lower blood pressure can help maintain brain health.
- Keep Weight in Check: High blood pressure and being overweight are related to heart disease, which is another dementia risk factor. Maintaining a Body Mass Index of 25 or less may reduce dementia risk.
- Eat a Balanced Diet: The WHO referenced the Mediterranean diet as the best eating style to promote and maintain a healthy brain. A diet high in vegetables, healthy fats, legumes, fruits, and nuts is associated with much less beta-amyloid and tau protein buildup in the brain, as well as fewer brain tangles. Tangles and protein buildup are believed to be major contributors to Alzheimer’s and dementia.