There are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, and the progressive disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There currently isn’t a cure, which adds to the list of reasons why getting a diagnosis is life-changing. But what if there are tangible things you can do to possibly lower your risk of ever developing it?
According to a new study from the journal Neurology, researchers found that there are five lifestyle changes you can make that the more you follow, the lower your risk for Alzheimer’s will be. The researchers looked at data from two different databases—one of 1,845 participants whose average age was 73, and the other of 920 participants whose average age was 81. At the start of the study, none of the participants had Alzheimer’s and after they were followed for about six years, 608 had developed Alzheimer’s disease.
Of the five major lifestyle aspects, the researchers found those who practiced at least two or three of these healthy lifestyle factors had a 37% reduced risk for Alzheimer’s. Those who practiced four or five of these behaviors fared even better—they had a 60% reduced risk. What exactly should you be doing then?
Here’s a breakdown of the healthy habits that were examined that may lower your Alzheimer’s risk.
- Not smoking.
- Moderate or intense physical activity that is done consistently.
- Light to moderate alcohol consumption.
- Following a Mediterranean-style diet.
- Engaging in cognitively challenging activities.
These were the five habits researchers examined and determined made the biggest difference in the participants who developed Alzheimer’s versus those who did not. Some of these really shouldn’t be all that surprising—refraining from smoking, exercising daily, and not drinking a lot of alcohol are often thought to be key components of a healthy lifestyle. The outliers here are following a Mediterranean diet and doing things to keep your brain stimulated.
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The ever-popular Mediterranean diet is often ranked as one of the best diets a person can follow. It focuses on eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean proteins (such as fish), and eating less red meat, added sugars, and saturated fat. This diet not only helps keep you trim, but it promotes good heart and brain health. And when it comes to your brain, you want to be sure you’re taking the best care of it. That includes doing things to keep your cognitive skills sharp, something so many often forget to keep doing as they get older.
“My top recommendations are to engage in cognitively stimulating activities such as reading books and newspapers and playing brain-stimulating games, like chess and checkers,” Dr. Klodian Dhana, an assistant professor of medicine at Rush Medical College and lead author of this study said. “Also, exercising regularly and following a diet for a healthy brain that includes green leafy vegetables every day, berries, nuts, poultry, fish, and limited fried food.”
So the conclusion here is the more you implement these healthy lifestyle behaviors, the more you decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Anything you can do to help your future self live your healthiest life is what matters most, right?