Alzheimer’s disease is the fastest growing disease in Canada. Making up 60 to 80 per cent of all dementia cases, it not only affects thousands of Canadians, but millions of people worldwide. Our aging population means these numbers are climbing, affecting all aspects of a person’s life and the lives of those around them.
Researchers are hard at work studying many approaches to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s, many of which can be adopted into our daily lives. These are changes that not only reap rewards for your brain health, but your physical well-being overall.
Recognizing that January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, practical lifestyle advice aimed at Alzheimer’s prevention is outlined below.
Exercise: your choice
Evidence suggests that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five days a week is crucial to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s, with aerobic activity helping to halt a decline in mental function.
While options are plentiful, it is important to remember that breaking a sweat doing what you enjoy is key, because we’re much more likely to repeat behaviours that bring us pleasure, and avoid those that bring us pain or discomfort. This is called “hedonic motivation.” Simply put, doing something that makes us happy will have us doing that same thing more.
Do you love the great outdoors? Swap out time on the basement’s stationary bike for brisk walks around the park.
Are you motivated by a workout buddy’s company? Text a friend or family member about joining you.
Instead of dreading your daily workout and finding excuses to avoid, you’ll be counting down the minutes until your heart is pumping harder, and a daily exercise regimen will be as routine as brushing your teeth.
Workouts for the brain
Now that you’re living heart-healthy, it is vital to keep your brain active – and that means mental engagement. Crossword puzzles or word searches can keep you busy but educational investments such as learning a new language or hobby, or playing a game of chess, are key to help to bolster your brain.
Challenging your mind in new and exciting ways appear to contribute to your “cognitive reserve,” that is, building new neurons and constructing pathways throughout the brain. Unlike construction projects on the 401 however, such mental exercise not only has long-term benefits, but can be enjoyable in the moment too, especially if it makes you happy.
Speaking of happy, do you enjoy spending time with friends, and meeting new ones? Good, because, up next:
Meaningful social activity is particularly important for keeping the brain fit, long-term. By interacting with people and staying engaged, the support and encouragement from those around you will help to boost your emotional wellbeing.
What’s more, socializing in groups stimulates a myriad of cognitive systems at the same time. By chatting with a handful of people over a few hours, you are juggling a multitude of tasks. From composing sentences and learning new names, to remembering the details of what someone has just told you, your inter-connected cognitive pathways are bustling. Oh, and they are also responsible for you being able to balance that drink…and not spill it on that stack of crossword puzzle books.
Using the MIND
You can’t work out your brain, body or social skills without the right fuel.
As such, research has suggested a hybrid of not one, but two diets – the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (or DASH) diet – to slow brain health deterioration.
Slapped together, these diets are referred to as MIND (the Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay). It is popular among doctors, dietitians and other health professionals, and recommended for prevention of other issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
So what is on your plate specifically?
With an emphasis on plants, make room for plenty of berries and green leafy vegetables, with little space for animal products and foods high in saturated fats. Instead, pile on even more fruit, vegetables including legumes, and nuts, olive oil and fish. In short, it seems that the foods we’ve been told are good for us may be even better than we thought – especially for the prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia.