The prevalence of Alzheimer’s is on the rise. Here, Dr. Mehmet Oz shares his must-follow lifestyle tips for Alzheimer prevention. From Alzheimer’s in America: The Shriver Report on Women and Alzheimer’s, a study by Maria Shriver and the Alzheimer’s Association.
While we wait for more proof of potential Alzheimer prevention strategies, there are many good studies showing that certain lifestyle choices are associated with increasing brain health and potentially decreasing one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. And these same lifestyle choices have been proven to lower the risk of other diseases as well. So, with many health benefits — and the potential for brain protection — here are my must-follow lifestyle tips for Alzheimer prevention.
Some of the strong brain-health research, including a recent study out of Boston University, links a healthy heart with a healthy brain. Conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes that damage heart and blood vessels are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Basically, your blood feeds your brain, so if your arteries are blocked, fewer nutrients get to the brain, which may lead to cognitive decline.
TIP #1: Exercise — particularly exercise that’s good for the heart — may improve cognitive function. Even better? Try exercises that engage your brain as well, like a game of tennis or a yoga class. Tennis will challenge your mind to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that can strengthen cognitive function, and yoga will relieve stress and relax the brain.
TIP #2: As you probably can guess, go for a healthy diet, but there’s a twist. Specific foods may reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer’s when they’re eaten in combination even more than when you eat them alone. A study published recently in Archives of Neurology showed that a diet rich in salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits and dark leafy greens — in combination with low intake of high-fat foods such as red meat, organ meat and butter — had a 30 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. These foods are all rich in folate, vitamin E and omega-3s, which suggests that these nutrients might help protect the brain from neurodegeneration. While the mechanism by which they work is still unclear, these nutrients are healthy on so many levels that you might as well load up. The next time you make dinner, try a salad of spinach, salmon and almonds to get all three of these beneficial nutrients in one meal.
TIP #3: A number of studies show that maintaining strong social interactions and engaging in regular mental activity is associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline. So my last piece of advice is to surround yourself with loved ones. Schedule that coffee date or invite your friend over for lunch. In addition, make sure you do something to challenge your mind every day, whether it’s a crossword or a good book — and particularly something that is new to you. Even better, combine the two. Engage yourself in family activities that force quick decisions — like table tennis or timed board games — and you’ll get your social interaction and mind challenge in one fell swoop.
Unfortunately, despite all efforts, even the healthiest person may still experience cognitive decline with age. Alzheimer’s disease results from a complex interaction of factors: genetics, age, environment, lifestyle and existing medical conditions. While some of these factors can be addressed, others, such as genetics and age, are unavoidable. There are five drugs to date that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to address Alzheimer symptoms. On average, these drugs improve symptoms for up to 12 months in about half the individuals who take them. Moreover, a number of experimental therapies designed to go beyond treating symptoms to actually slowing or stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s are in the works.
We still have a ways to go before we fully understand the causes of Alzheimer’s, but new research looks promising. In the meantime, my best advice is to maintain your overall health — physical, nutritional and psychological. Exercise to improve cardiovascular health, load up your diet with fruits and vegetables rich in potent nutrients such as folate and omega-3s, and engage your mind. A healthy body could be the key to keeping your mind sharp well into old age.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria Shriver, author of Alzheimer’s in America: The Shriver Report on Women and Alzheimer’s (Copyright © 2010 by the Alzheimer’s Association and Maria Shriver), is the author of six books, an Emmy– and Peabody Award–winning broadcast journalist, and the former First Lady of California. Shriver was co-executive producer of the Emmy Award–winning four-part HBO documentary series, The Alzheimer’s Project, which took an inside look at cutting-edge research in the country’s leading Alzheimer laboratories and examined the effects of Alzheimer’s on people with the disease and their families.
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