There is strong evidence that factors associated with leading a healthy lifestyle may reduce risk of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. These factors include regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and keeping your brain active through lifelong learning and social interaction.
Evidence suggests that risk of Alzheimer’s disease is greater in people who have risk factors associated with vascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. A lifestyle that includes regular exercise may lower risk of dementia by controlling these vascular problems. Exercise may also directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow in the brain.
A heart-healthy diet may also protect the brain from dementia. Limiting sugar and saturated fats while making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains tends to bring the most benefit. Two approaches are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean diet. Both diets emphasize fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts and healthy oils. In addition to improving vascular health, these diets are high in anti-oxidants, which can neutralize some of the damaging effects of substances that are harmful to brain cells.
MENTAL AND SOCIAL ACTIVITY
The more you keep your brain active across the lifespan, the better it can withstand the changes brought on by aging, Alzheimer’s disease and AD-related dementia. Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities such as reading, learning a new hobby, taking adult education courses, visiting a museum, and other knowledge-seeking pursuits may lower risk of dementia by creating and strengthening connections among brain cells. The greater the number & strength of these connections, the longer it may take age and/or disease to wear them down.
Being social can also keep us mentally active. Keeping company with other intellectually curious people, teaching others how to do something you do well, joining a group or club that shares your interests, etc. not only keep us mentally sharp but also gives a sense of accomplishment, support, and belonging that can promote emotional well-being. This can help battle feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation that sometimes accompany getting older (and can impact our memory ability).
- Exercises to stay healthy as you get older, from the National Institute on Aging.
- Sample menus for brain-healthy eating, from the National Institute on Aging.
- Brain-healthy lifestyle tips from the Alzheimer’s Association.