For many people the most quintessential questions is what do I need to do to stay healthy for life. If you want to feel healthier, more energized, or in a better mood, get moving. Regular exercise can benefit both your physical and mental health in a multitude of ways. And, you don’t need to run a half-marathon or sweat it out at the gym for hours every day to reap the rewards.
Stay Healthy for life is a great idea, but how do we do it ? Staying healthy optimizes our metabolic system, our hormonal system and our digestive system resulting in the effects of decreased cognitive decline, inflammation, and immune system
Diet - Eat More Brain-Boosting Foods
Following a Mediterranean style diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and olive oil may reduce Alzheimer’s risk by up to 54%, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This plant-based diet is loaded with antioxidants from produce, omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts, and fiber from whole grains – all of which fight inflammation in the brain. Additionally, limiting sugar, saturated fats, and highly processed foods can help reduce oxidative damage.
Some of the top 10 brain healthy foods supported by research include:
Try to incorporate several servings of these protective foods in your diet each day. Avoid packaged snacks and fried foods high in trans fats. Be sure to stay hydrated as well by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Consult a nutritionist if needed to develop a customized Alzheimer’s prevention diet plan.
Exercise - Stay Active Mentally & Physically
Engaging in regular exercise may reduce your risk of eventually developing Alzheimer’s by up to 50%, based on research published in JAMA Neurology. Both aerobic exercise and strength training have been shown to benefit the brain. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity like brisk walking, swimming, cycling or dancing. This elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain. Add in resistance training 2-3 times per week to build muscle mass. Weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and pushups can all be beneficial.
Even lower intensity activities like yoga, tai chi, stretching and chair exercises can help reduce risk by stimulating neurotransmitters and neural connectivity. Also continue to exercise your mind through activities like puzzles, learning a new skill, playing an instrument or strategy games. A combination of physical and mental stimulation protects cognitive reserve as you age.
Try following an example routine like:
- 30 minutes brisk walking 5 days per week
- 20 minutes strength training 2 days per week
- Taking a weekly dance class for fun
- Doing crossword puzzles or sudoku to challenge your mind
Check with your doctor before significantly increasing your exercise levels. Start slow and gradually build up endurance. Having an exercise buddy or joining a class can also help you stick to this important habit long-term.
Sleep - Will help you stay healthy
Getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night allows your brain to effectively clear away harmful waste products that accumulate like amyloid beta. Research from Stanford University found that participants who slept less had higher levels of beta amyloid accumulation. Poor sleep may increase Alzheimer’s risk by up to 51% according to data from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
To improve your sleep:
- Keep a consistent bedtime and wake up schedule, even on weekends
- Establish a relaxing pre-bed routine like reading or gentle yoga
- Limit screen time and blue light exposure before bedtime
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and comfortable
- Use white noise or blackout curtains if needed to minimize disturbances
- Avoid large meals, caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime
Additionally, watch out for conditions like sleep apnea which deprive you of oxygen while sleeping. Seek treatment right away if your partner notices snoring or gasping episodes. Getting consistent deep, restorative sleep is vital for allowing your brain to repair itself each night.
Stress Management - Calm Your Mind and Body
Chronic stress takes a toll on your brain health by elevating cortisol levels in the body. A study by neuroscientists at the University of California Berkeley demonstrated that higher cortisol shrinks the hippocampus area of the brain involved in memory formation and recall. To reduce stress:
- Practice relaxation techniques like breathwork, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
- Spend time outdoors communing with nature
- Express yourself creatively through music, art, writing
- Talk to loved ones and build social connections
- Consider counseling or joining a support group
- Identify and eliminate sources of stress in your life
When you feel stressed, take a break to calm both your mind and body. This protects your brain from the damaging effects of sustained high cortisol. Don’t neglect your mental health on your Alzheimer’s prevention journey.
While more research is still emerging, the evidence clearly shows that leading a brain-healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and delay the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Pay careful attention to your diet, physical activity levels, sleep habits and stress management. Consult with a functional medicine specialist who can help you develop a customized lifestyle plan for Alzheimer’s risk reduction. Through proactive habits and targeted interventions, you may be able to live better for longer even with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.