The brain is an incredibly complex machine that is, ironically, beyond our full understanding. So are many diseases of the brain, like dementia, an umbrella term for several neurological diseases that include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Dementia is mysterious, progressive and currently has no cure. But research has begun to shed light on how the risk of developing dementia may be reduced, via some easy lifestyle changes that can make you healthier and happier at any age. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
What’s good for the heart is what’s good for the brain, which is fed by the same arteries that are supplied by the cardiovascular system. An unhealthy diet — high in processed foods, saturated fats and simple sugars — is good for no part of the body. To support brain and heart health, try adopting the Mediterranean diet, which features fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil and mixed nuts.
“These items aren’t only linked to boosting the brain power of elderly people, but they’ve also been shown to be even more beneficial to your health than a low-fat diet by protecting against type 2 diabetes, preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing muscle weakness and frailty in aging bones,” says Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who focuses on treating patients with dementia.
“When you go to sleep at night, [the brain] is taking the experiences you had throughout the day and consolidating them into memory,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent, earlier this year. “We’re learning that the brain is constantly going through this ‘rinse cycle’ at night.” During that time, research suggests, the brain is clearing away debris like plaques and toxins that can lead to dementia.
How much is enough? Experts including Gupta and the National Sleep Foundation recommend getting seven to nine hours a night. “If you’re dreaming in the morning right before you wake up, that’s a pretty good sign,” said Gupta. “That probably means that you’ve spent a fair amount of your night consolidating memories and going through the rinse cycle.”
“Exercise, both aerobic and nonaerobic (strength training), is not only good for the body; it’s even better for the brain,” writes Gupta in Keep Sharp, his book on reducing dementia risk. “The connection between physical fitness and brain fitness is clear, direct, and powerful.” Experts like the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, such as brisk walking, bicycling or gardening.
According to a study published in July in the journal Neurology, researchers found that mentally stimulating activities that involve seeking or processing information (such as reading, writing letters, playing cards or board games, and doing puzzles) may delay the onset of dementia in older people by up to five years. That supports other research that has found keeping your brain challenged can help keep it young. Additionally, “staying socially engaged may support brain health,” says the Alzheimer’s Association. “Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you.”
In a study published in the April edition of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Korean researchers reported that people with the most severe form of metabolic syndrome had nearly triple the risk of developing dementia than people who didn’t have the condition. Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and large waist circumference. A person is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome when they meet more than three of those criteria. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can stave off metabolic syndrome. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.