Steps You Can Take To Guard Against Dementia

Nutritious diet, exercise can slow or reverse decline

elderly couple

We all hope that medicine will find the golden cure to erase the threat of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease from our lives.

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Fortunately, while research to do exactly that is happening, there already are  plenty of steps you can take to keep your brain healthy.

More and more, physicians and researchers find that one of the best ways to prevent dementia symptoms and delay — or even reverse — the deterioration process lies in simply making these healthy lifestyle choices:

  1. Get regular exercise.
  2. Eat a healthy diet.
  3. Maintain a low body weight.
  4. Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  5. Don’t smoke.

The power of physical fitness

“Of everything on this list, the strongest evidence is for the positive impact of regular exercise on reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” says neurologist Jagan Pillai, MD. “Both aerobic and isometric muscle-toning exercises have been shown to be very effective.”

In fact, the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation claims that exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent. It has also been found to slow further deterioration in people who already have started to develop cognitive problems.

Start slow and build

If exercise is not a part of your life, it can be intimidating to think of initiating a difficult fitness regimen. So start slow.

You don’t have to sign up for a fancy gym membership, either. Try these  simple, easy ways to increase your physical activity:

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  • Park farther away from your destination.
  • Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators.
  • Take a daily walk around the block.
  • Even pace around the room when you’re talking on your cell phone.

When you’re ready to buy a membership at the local fitness center, be sure to consult your physician first.

RELATED: 4 Foam Roller Exercises for Your Legs and Lower Body (Video)

Eat well, be well

When you eat well, your body and brain both benefit. Focus on a heart-healthy diet rich in plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and omega-3 fats (found in cold-water fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout and tuna). You can also take fish oil supplements.

Dr. Pillai emphasizes following a Mediterranean diet, which features nuts, whole grains, olive oil and lots of fresh produce. Try to “eat across the rainbow” — choose fruits and vegetables in a diverse range of colors to maximize your intake of protective antioxidants and vitamins.

RELATED: How You Can Get Started on the Mediterranean Diet

Be the complete package

Combine regular exercise with a nutritious diet and you’ll be able to keep your body weight in the healthiest range, with a minimum amount of body fat.

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Moreover, if you owned a high-performance sports car, you wouldn’t put sugar in the gas tank, right? So why gunk up the works of your high-performance body and brain with smoking or heavy drinking?

Smoking seriously damages the vascular system that feeds your brain. When you stop smoking, improved circulation almost immediately improves your brain health. Alcohol abuse, however, will directly damage your brain in ways that can only be reversed in early stages.

“Cognitive difficulties don’t come only from Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Pillai says. “Certain areas of the brain that are important for working memory or handling everyday tasks are very sensitive to unhealthy practices like smoking, so a healthy lifestyle always contributes to vascular and brain health.”

More information
Guide to brain health

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