One of most feared of all diseases is Alzheimer’s, which is certainly understandable. Nobody wants to think of a future where they can’t think, remember, or recognize their loved ones. A lot of research has been done on this terrible disease. And that research has pinpointed certain genes that indicate a person’s likelihood of developing it.
For example Apolipoprotein E, or APOE for short, is a gene linked to different risk levels of developing Alzheimer’s. Whether you have a low, average, or high risk of developing Alzheimer’s depends on which allele of the APOE gene you have. Alleles are just the different forms of gene that can be found on different places on a chromosome. Everyone has two alleles of the APOE gene. One’s genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s depends on the exact combination of alleles that person has.
BUT, that’s far from the end of the story of anyone’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s because the lifestyle choices each person makes have also been found to have a significant impact on one’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s. We actually each have a lot of control over our chances, based on studies of those lifestyle choices.
The studies of lifestyle options that impact anyone’s Alzheimer’s risk offer evidence that there are 6 parts to a “brain-healthy” lifestyle that are truly entirely within each person’s control. Here are those 6 lifestyle options that impact one’s brain health:
¨ Exercise — We often read exercise is good for the brain but do you know why it’s good for your brain? Turns out, research has found that regular exercise can increase brain levels of irisin, which is a hormone that helps the brain’s hippocampus to store more memories. That clarifies why it’s good for our brain! Also, it’s said that ideally your exercise program should include some moderate cardio exercise and strength training, as well as weight lifting and coordination and balance exercise. The different types of exercise strengthen different parts of your brain. Please NOTE: before starting any exercise program consult your health care professional to find out if he or she thinks you are healthy enough to do those exercises or if they can offer some modifications to create a program safe for you to do.
¨ Social Engagement— We’ve written about the benefits for brain health from social engagement a number of times before, so we’re not surprised to see it’s on the “official list” of lifestyle choices to help reduce one’s risk of Alzheimer’s. Studies have confirmed that feeling lonely can indeed raise the risk of clinical dementia. Volunteering, visiting neighbors, joining a club, or reaching out to friends or family or groups you’ve been involved with before, are a few of the ways you can keep feeling connected to others.
¨ A Healthy Diet— Alzheimer’s is sometimes called “diabetes of the brain” because insulin resistance can damage neurons and prevent them from communicating with each other. A Mediterranean diet, or its close cousin called the MIND diet, is said to be the best way to eat to avoid Alzheimer’s. It is a diet that provides high levels of fruits and vegetables, low amounts of sugar, and avoids trans fats found in processed foods.
¨ Mental Stimulation— The National Institutes of Health’s ACTIVE study, found that older adults who received as few as ten sessions of mental training improved their cognitive functioning in daily activities. AND, those improvements were still in evidence ten years later. Learning a new skill, doing strategy puzzles, taking new routes during usual routines (but make sure you have the route planned out or on your phone’s GPS or something, so you don’t get lost!), and keeping a Journal in which you observe your environment, are just a few ways to keep your brain active.
¨ Good Sleep — Disrupted sleep appears to be associated with amyloid plaque build-up in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. A regular sleep schedule and a relaxing bedtime routine are both good ideas. Also keeping the lighting around you low an hour or two before going to bed, and staying away from electronic stimulation like computers and TVs is also helpful for better sleep. And if you don’t want to turn the TV off, try to avoid too stimulating or disturbing content anywhere near bedtime. Also, if you struggle with insomnia avoid long naps during the day as it may worsen your insomnia..
¨ Manage Stress — Vital exhaustion is a term used to describe a constellation or combination of a group of physical symptoms. It refers to a group of symptoms including physical exhaustion and hopelessness. It is considered a strong predictor of heart disease. Data from the Copenhagen City Heart Study — a long-term study of 20,000 people — indicated that vital exhaustion is also a predictor of dementia. Some ways to deal with stress include meditation, yoga, deep breathing, a walk in the park — whatever it is that makes you feel more relaxed.