By now it’s evident that healthy lifestyle habits have clear benefits, and evidence suggests that keeping Alzheimer’s disease at bay may eventually be added to the list. Data are strongest for regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, and sufficient sleep as important ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Other lifestyle choices may help as well.
Remaining focused for extended periods of time is difficult, but researchers believe that doodling gives a break to parts of the brain, making it possible to absorb and retain more information overall. While this phenomenon is not well understood, neuroscience is starting to learn how doodling might help boost attention and and focus.
Spices and herbs have a long history as a safe component of human diets and traditional health practices. Aromatic ingredients that flavor our holiday meals also deliver antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and other bioactive compounds that benefit the brain.
To keep your brain in tip top shape as you age, work to lower your risk for heart disease. Steps that can help protect both your heart and cognitive abilities include getting regular physical activity, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.
Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).
Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.
Mental and social engagement can help keep your brain sharp and lower the chances of cognitive decline, in part because challenging our brains may help forge new connections between brain cells. The key to taking advantage of the brain’s malleability is to find activities that you truly enjoy and to commit to life-long learning.
A new study published in PLOS One, looked at oxygen related changes and nerve processing in the brain, features that have shown to correlate with better memory and brain function as people age. It found that people with higher fitness levels were the same ones that were more physically active during the week. They were also the same people who showed more positive oxygen related changes and MRI findings consistent with faster nerve processing in the brain. Though there isn’t an exact exercise prescription to guide how long and hard we should exercise, the results of this study and many others, show even low intensity activity for an hour a day is much better for the brain than sitting on the couch.
Can a Mediterranean-type diet with extra servings of nuts and extra-virgin olive oil help protect memory and thinking skills with age? A study in this week’s JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that it might. The findings come from a small substudy done as part of the PREDIMED trial, which showed that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems among people at high risk for them. Although the results of the new PREDIMED study are promising, its small size and the fact that it wasn’t designed to look at connections between diet and brain health mean the results need to be taken with a grain of salt. That said, since there’s no downside to following a Mediterranean diet, an added bonus beyond great taste could be protecting memory and thinking skills.