Did you know at least 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease right now?
As if that's not startling enough, experts predict that another 46.7 million are at high risk for developing Alzheimer's later in life.
Despite ongoing research, doctors have yet to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Does this mean the situation is hopeless? Is there nothing you can do to prevent Alzheimer's down the road?
Far from it! While there's no magic formula for prevention, there are many steps you can take today to keep your brain healthy for years to come.
Ready to improve your general fitness level and protect your mind and body from the effects of aging? Read on for 6 expert Alzheimer's prevention tips.
1. Focus on Your Diet
Despite the countless pills andÂ potions out there, there's simply no substitute for a healthy diet.
There's no one food that can prevent cognitive decline, but the right combination of foods can have a powerful effect on your brain health. Here are some helpful tips to get you on the right path.
Increase Fruits & Vegetables
You can never eat too many fruits and veggies--especially when it comes to preventing Alzheimer's.
The more colorful your diet, the more balanced nutrition you receive. Load your fridge with green leafy vegetables, berries, peppers, and beans.
If you can't get excited about eating a salad every day, try some creative ways to "sneak" vegetables into your favorite meals. Swap out Swiss chard for basil in homemade pesto. Sneak some spinach or peppers into your omelet, or try poached eggs over sauteed greens.
As for fruit, swap out fattening baked desserts for a bowl of fresh berries with ice cream. Stir in a handful of fruit into yogurt or oatmeal in the mornings, or swap that lunchtime sandwich for a fresh fruit smoothie.
Getting into the habit of eating more fresh foods also reduces your overall calorie intake, which has innumerable health benefits.
Interestingly, researchers are now considering Alzheimer's to be "diabetes of the brain."
Labeled as Type 3 diabetes, Alzheimer's may be the result of high glucose levels in the brain over a prolonged period of time.
Having Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can increase your risk of developing dementia. But even if you're not diabetic, reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can dramatically improve your long-term health.
Where should you start? Sugary desserts are obvious, but most of our sugar consumption comes from refined carbs like pasta, white bread, and white rice.
Since these foods cause blood sugar spikes and increase inflammation, try to reduce or eliminate them from your diet. Swap them out for whole-grain versions of bread, pasta, and rice, or (even better) go grain-free.
Other places to look for "hidden" sugar are prepackaged cereals, sauces, and dressings. Often these sugars go by other names like corn syrup, fructose, or dextrose.
Low-fat or no-fat foods often contain extra sugar too, to add flavor. Read product labels carefully so you understand exactly what you're buying--and what you're putting into your body.
Swap Trans-Fats for Healthy Fats & Omega 3s
Any time you eat fast food or fried food, you're ingesting harmful trans fats. These "bad" fats produce free radicals and increase inflammation--two things you definitely want to avoid.
Like sugar, do your best to reduce or eliminate these types of foods from your diet. Keep an eye out for anything labeled "partially hydrogenated oils," as this is another name for the same thing.
Instead of greasy fried foods and vegetable oils, add healthy fats like olive oil to your diet. You might also consider upping your intake of foods rich in Omega 3s like salmon, tuna, sardines, and seaweed.
If you're not a seafood lover, try supplementing with fish oil instead. Researchers have found that Omega 3s reduce beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which can go a long way in Alzheimer's prevention.
Try a Mediterranean Diet
Since we're on the subject of olive oil, let's talk about a Mediterranean diet.
Based on the foods traditionally found in the Mediterranean region, this diet focuses on fresh vegetables, nuts, beans, seafood, dairy, and (you guessed it) olive oil.
Far from a fad diet, people have been eating this way for thousands of years--and have the good health to show for it. Among the many benefits of a Mediterranean diet are improved cognitive and heart health and a reduced risk of cancer and diabetes.
If you're not familiar with the components of a Mediterranean diet, this guide is a great place to start.
What's the key to making these all-important dietary changes? Make an effort to prepare most of your meals at home.
That way, you have full control over everything that goes into your food.
Add Tea & Brain-Healthy Supplements
In addition to the right foods, there are certain drinks and supplements that also contribute to brain health.
Researchers have found that consuming 2-4 cups of tea daily can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's by up to 86%. This is because tea contains powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which contribute to cognitive function.
Green, white, and oolong teas are particularly good for brain health, but plain black tea has excellent benefits too. Make sure you're drinking high-quality tea brewed from whole leaves (not the powdered or bottled varieties).
Too further boost your brainpower, consider adding some of these supplements to your daily diet:
Be sure to check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your health routine.
2. Engage in Regular Exercise
Want one more reason why sitting too much can kill you?
Not only is it terrible for your physical health, but researchers have discovered a link to increased dementia risk too. The conclusion is clear: Exercise is just as important for your brain as it is for your body!
Getting into the habit of regular exercise when you're young sets you up for a longer, healthier life. What if you're advancing in years and you tend to be sedentary?
It's never too late to start a good habit--especially one as good as exercise. A little bit is better than nothing at all, so start small if you have to. Take a few 10-minute walks around the neighborhood each day, swim a few laps in the pool, or dust off the bicycle in the garage.
If you'd prefer to be inside, try something quieter like Pilates, tai chi, or yoga for seniors. Adding a few sessions of gentle weight training each week will strengthen your bones and keep the neurons in your brain firing.
Ideally, you'll want to work up to moderate levels of exercise 4-5 days a week. Regular exercise encourages the development of new nerve cells and increases the number of connections (synapses) between brain cells.
The result? Your brain becomes more adaptive, more efficient, and better able to ward off degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
3. Get Plenty of Sleep
Do you get at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night? If not, you could be increasing your risk of developing dementia.
Even losing one night of sleep increases a protein in the brain called beta-amyloid. Over time, these proteins clump together and form amyloid plaques--the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
Does this mean you'll develop Alzheimer's if you lose a few nights of sleep? Of course not. But if you habitually lose sleep or experience poor-quality sleep, your risk factor increases significantly.
If you're a known snorer, it's a good idea to get screened for sleep apnea. Treating this condition will not only improve your current health, but it will ensure you get the rest you need in the future.
As often as possible, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time. Your body responds best to this kind of regularity. If you must nap in the afternoon, try to limit it to 30 minutes or less.
Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Start some more good habits by switching off the television and mobile devices an hour before you go to sleep. This ensures your brain's melatonin production (the hormone that helps you sleep) is uninterrupted.
If your body needs more encouragement to fall asleep, try incorporating some nightly bedtime rituals. This might include a warm bath, aromatherapy, light reading, or writing in a journal.
4. Challenge Your Mind
Remember the old saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it"? When it comes to your brain, truer words have never been spoken!
The more you use your brain--now and as you age--the more you stimulate those all-important connections between brain cells. In fact, studies show that exercising your mind delays the decline of thinking and reasoning skills.
You don't have to go out and get a Ph.D. to keep your mind sharp. You simply need to exercise it regularly, the same way you do your physical body.
What are some ways to keep your brain functioning at a high level? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Study a second language
Learn to play a musical instrument
Play cards or board games
Travel to a new city, state, or country
Sign up for classes at the local community college
Volunteer for a cause that's close to your heart
Assemble puzzles or play word or numbers games
Write that book you've always wanted to write
Sign up for a drawing, painting, or photography class
It doesn't matter which activities you choose. The point is to stay active and never stop learning.
The more you use your mind, the less chance it has to slow down--and the better your chance of preventing Alzheimer's.
5. Stay Active Socially
Humans weren't meant to survive in isolation. The same is true of our brains.
While it's not necessary to go out every night of the week, social interaction is another key to Alzheimer's prevention. Studies suggest that living alone and isolating one's self may increase the risk of dementia while keeping close ties with family and friends reduces the risk.
It's natural to spend more time indoors and feel lonely once the kids are gone, but it's vital not to become too isolated. Seek out new friendships with like-minded people, perhaps at a local church, community center, or social club.
Take the time to get to know your neighbors. Let your kids (or grandkids) teach you how to use Skype, FaceTime, and other electronic ways of keeping in touch.
Even if you just visit the local bookstore and enjoy a cup of coffee, you're leaving yourself open to social interaction. You never know where that might lead.
6. Quit Smoking (If You Haven't Already)
This one is a no-brainer. We don't need to lecture you on the detrimental effects smoking has on your overall health--the facts are well established.
But here's something you may not know: Science has found a definite link between smoking and developing dementia.
One study found that middle-aged heavy smokers more than double their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease within 20 years. Smoking also increases your risk of vascular problems, which may lead to stroke or vascular dementia.
Even if you eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest, smoking will undo much of the good you're trying to accomplish. If you haven't kicked the habit yet, make it a top priority.
Your body--and your brain--will thank you for it.
Final Thoughts on Alzheimer's Prevention
By the year 2050, experts estimate that 14 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of dementia.
There's nothing that can 100% guarantee you'll never develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease. But until researchers find a cure, there's plenty you can do right now to reduce your risk and keep your brain healthy and active.
Incorporate these Alzheimer's prevention tips into your daily routine. By doing so, you'll keep your mind and body healthy for years to come.
Looking for more ways to improve your health and feel fantastic? Check out our latest health-related posts for more great tips.