As part of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the Broyles Foundation is proud to welcome a guest author, Dr. Amy Grooms. Dr. Grooms is a physician at the Psychiatrist Research Institute at UAMS in Little Rock, Arkansas. To learn more about her work, visit the UAMS website.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia and is estimated to be double in prevalence by 2050. The cause of AD continues to be a robust area of research and we have learned much over the years about how a person’s genetic makeup, lifestyle, environment and health behaviors can lead to developing AD. By understanding the various factors that may contribute to developing AD, we can start to take action to prevent and treat AD. One important lesson we have learned from research in this field, is that making simple changes to promote overall brain health can decrease your risk of developing AD. Here are some of the ways you can make healthy choices for your brain and your body.
“ What is Good for the Heart is Good for the Brain”
- Eating a healthy diet, keeping an exercise routine and maintaining a health weight isn’t just good for the heart, but it is also good for the brain. Conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus are all risk factors for AD. So making healthy lifestyle choices and working with your doctor to keep these chronic health conditions can go a long way towards preventing cognitive decline and AD.
- Keeping your systolic blood pressure (the top number) below 120 was associated with a decreased risk for later developing dementia and cognitive decline. Take care of your blood pressure, and it will take care of you!
- To help promote neurohealth, do your best to maintain a low fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables which contain lots of beneficial antioxidants. A mediterranean diet is a good example of a heart healthy and brain healthy diet.
- Vitamin B supplements can also be helpful in promoting overall brain health, as the B vitamins (B12, B6, niacin, folate) are important for proper function of brain cells. Unfortunately though, there is no evidence that vitamin supplementation directly decreases your risk for AD or cognitive decline; rather, these vitamins must be part of a healthy lifestyle to have any positive impact. If you have a hard time getting these vitamins in your diet, a daily multivitamin should do the trick.
- Stop smoking! We all know this is easier said than done, but all the more reason to keep in mind the benefits from making this commitment to your health. Smoking contributes directly to high blood pressure and is a major risk factor for stroke.
- Limit alcohol to no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 2 drinks in one day. As we age our body is more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and one glass of wine will go further than it used to.* While there are some who say red wine can decrease the risk for AD, it is not actually the ethanol in the wine that is beneficial, but rather the antioxidants found in some wines. These naturally occurring antioxidants called Flavonoids, are also found in high concentrations in berries, soy products, apples, citrus fruit, tea, spinach and legumes. Antioxidants are the key!
- Exercise! There have been many demonstrating the numerous health benefits associated with keeping a regular exercise routine. Generally, 30 minutes 3 days a week doing something that gets your body moving and is something you enjoy. There is no consensus on what kind of exercise is best, so find something you enjoy whether it is yoga, golf, swimming, hitting the gym or going for a walk.
“Use It or Lose It”
- Many studies have shown that continuing to challenge and engage your mind can help improve cognitive functioning and have an enduring positive effect on daily. Different activities and games can “exercise” different cognitive skills, like memory, reasoning and processing speed. Examples would be learning different memory mnemonics or activities that help you hone your pattern recognition skills whether that’s knitting, playing cards, reading or playing words with friends on your iPhone.
* This is because older adults metabolize alcohol more slowly, so the alcohol takes longer to break down. Additionally, the amount of muscle in our bodies decreases as we age and the amount of fat increases. This causes our vital organs, such as the brain and heart, to be exposed more to the toxic effects of alcohol.
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Willis, s, Tennstedt S, et. al. “Long-term effects of Cognitive Training on Everyday Functional Outcomes in Older Adults.” JAMA, Volume 296, Issue 23, December 20, 2006, 2805-2814.
Andrieu, S., Coley, N., Lovestone, S., et. al. “Prevention of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease: lessons learned from clinical trials and future directions”. The Lancet Neurology. Volume 14, Issue 9, september 2015, pages 296-944.