As if worrying about the loss of hearing, muscle mass, hair and coordination, along with the addition of strange hair in other areas, wrinkles and larger ear lobes weren’t enough to contend with when aging, a much larger concern is the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. A recent report reveals staggering, and frightening, facts.
According to the report, between the years 2000 to 2017, heart disease deaths have decreased by 9%, but deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased by 145%! One in three seniors now dies with Alzheimer’s—that’s more than prostate and breast cancer combined. If you enjoy horror stories, read the rest of the report. It’s scary enough to keep even the most ardent Stephen King fan awake at night.
But, in the wake of fear, there is hope. While we may not understand everything about Alzheimer’s and dementia, nor have a cure, scientists continue to work diligently to learn how to stave off these awful diseases. Some things, like genetic proclivities, may be out of our hands, but several activities have been linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
Jane Fonda was on to something
Grab your sweatbands and leotards because aerobic exercise can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by 50%. Even better, recent studies are demonstrating that aerobic activity can even slow the process in individuals who already have biomarkers and symptoms of the diseases! Aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week—walking, biking, hiking, etc. Dancing is probably one of the best activities as, not only does it challenge you aerobically, but it is also more mentally stimulating than other activities and has been shown to open neural pathways and increase cognitive function—very important in staving off these diseases.
Dancing not only aids physically in improving health, but staying social and being around friends and family is extremely important in reducing Alzheimer’s risks. “No man is an island” takes on a whole new meaning. Humans do not thrive in isolation—so grab a partner and do-si-do. Or join a book club or knitting group or weekly poker game—get off social media and interact in real life.
Brain Teasers for $200, Alex
Improving cognitive function has been mentioned as an important step in preventing Alzheimer’s. Dancing can certainly help here, but so can that daily crossword puzzle, or learning a new language, or playing a musical instrument, or even trying something with your opposite hand (ever try to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand?) Anything you can do to open new neural pathways will fortify your defenses.
It’s Greek to me
We are what we eat. If you fill your body with sugar, processed foods, alcohol and saturated fats, then the results are probably not going to be what you want. Aim, instead for a Mediterranean style diet—heavy on the fish (omegas are key to optimal brain health), whole grains (good carbs are our friend), legumes, vegetables and olives, or in other words, good fats. And listen to your mother—she was right when she warned you to eat your veggies. The more, the better. By adjusting your eating habits, you can reduce inflammation and protect your brain.
Probably one of the hardest of the list to repair, but deep, restful sleep is needed to flush toxins out of the brain and prevent the build-up of ‘sticky’ proteins that inhibit memory function. Try to create a routine each night of shutting off screens at least an hour before bed. Reading or meditation before bed are great tools for quieting the mind and preparing the body for sleep. Avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol in the evenings; and maybe even get screened for sleep apnea if the zzz’s have proved elusive.
Breathe through it
Stress has been linked with increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Chronic stress can lead to brain shrinkage in memory areas as well as damaged nerve growth. Take some deep breaths and create a plan to decrease stress. Yoga and mediation have proven effective in developing coping techniques when things get challenging. Try laughing at your stress—even just that small redirection has proven effective in lowering stress levels. Most importantly, don’t forget that life is about fun—find those things in life you enjoy doing and make them a priority. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s easy to see how these six factors are linked and intertwined with each other. So, grab some friends and go dance it out, and make sure to laugh at yourselves and enjoy the moves, and then sleep deeply afterward. Small changes can have great impacts on preventing these scary diseases. And if someone you know is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, be with them. Get them out walking at the very least. Even a simple hug can bring big changes.