Protect Your Brain with Healthy Lifestyle Habits
According to the Alzheimer's Organization there are 6.2 million Americans with Alzheimer's dementia. Those who are 75 years of age and older comprise 72% of that Alzheimer's Dementia group, and the numbers continue to go up. Research presented at a recent virtual American Heart Association conference indicates that a healthy lifestyle can reduce risk for developing dementia, even if there is a family history of dementia.
The eight year study included 302,000 adults who were between the ages of 50 and 73 years. They were all free of dementia at the start of the study but 1,700 developed dementia by the study's end. Those who had a family history of dementia had a 70% increased risk of developing dementia.
The researchers assessed the participant's lifestyle habits that might protect brain health:
- Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and very little processed meat or refined grains.
- Regular exercise
- Healthy weight with avoidance of obesity
- Obtaining 6-9 hours of sleep
- Moderate alcohol
- No smoking
As you might suspect, as the number of healthy habits went up, the incidence of dementia went down. If there were three of the healthy lifestyle habits engaged in, dementia risk was lower by 30% but the risk was cut in half if folks were engaged in all six lifestyle habits. This study reaffirms that healthy habits can improve brain health. There may be an even larger benefit to those with a family history of dementia.
Researchers also recognize that getting older; having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes not well controlled or having depression can increase risk for dementia. These are some others areas to address as well. And certainly a healthful plant-based diet with few processed foods will benefit those other chronic diseases (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes). The exercise recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, or about 30 minutes daily.
About the Author
Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.
By: Rita P. Smith, MS, RD, CDE, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital