More than 5 million people of all ages are living with Alzheimer's in America and that number is expected to rise to nearly 14 million by the 2050. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in this country — killing more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
However, research presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) shows clear data that improving lifestyle factors can influence the development and the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Here are eight ways to reduce your risk of this devastating disease:
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. "One of the best defenses against this disease appears to be in the food you eat," says Dr. Ellen Kamhi, author of "The Natural Medicine Chest." A recent study found that people who eat the recommended amount of folate have a much lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Folates are B vitamins found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, legumes, and bananas. But, "Although folates appear to be more beneficial than other nutrients, the primary message should be that overall healthy diets seem to have an impact on limiting Alzheimer's disease risk," said Maria Corrada of the University of California Irvine's Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, who co-led the study.
- Upgrade your lifestyle. The same factors that put you at risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, may also increase the likelihood that you'll develop Alzheimer's disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. This means that leading a healthy lifestyle by avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight may help keep your brain as healthy as your heart.
- Get active. Avoid a mostly sedentary life, also referred to as "sittosis," at all costs. A stagnant body with little to no activity can mean a stagnant mind. Being active means you increase oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain and throughout the body, which can be a positive step toward mental vibrancy, says Kamhi.
- Keep diabetes under control. Poorly controlled diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer's, so if you have this condition be sure to eat right and exercise regularly to keep it under control.
- Limit omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fats, found in most vegetable oils as well as red meat, poultry, cereals, eggs and nuts, are essential for a healthy brain. However, this is a case where "a lot" is not necessarily better. A recent study by researchers at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Diseases in San Francisco found that raised levels of arachidonic acid, a type of omega-6 fat, was associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's, according to The Guardian.
- Stimulate your brain. "A lifetime of intellectual curiosity and mental stimulation" may help to promote brain health, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In fact, numerous studies suggest that stimulating your brain as you age can ward off dementia and cognitive decline. Yaakov Stern, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, agrees. "Just keeping busy seems to tune the brain," he says.
- Stay social. A robust social life also appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, says Dr. Gary Small, author of the "Mind-Body Report" and a leading expert on brain aging. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you, notes Small. Find a way to be part of your local community, even it means volunteering virtually.
- Take precautions to avoid head injuries. Research has uncovered a strong link between serious head injury and Alzheimer's. You can reduce your risk of head injury by always wearing a seat belt while driving, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle, and making sure to remove tripping hazards around your home, says Kamhi.
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