You’ve frequently heard me stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle in maintaining optimal wellness, and the data continues to pile up demonstrating the profound ways in which our diet and activities affect our minds and bodies. Dementia is one diagnosis where, despite bleak and disappointing drug trials aimed at treatment of the disease, the evidence regarding lifestyle choices in prevention continues to grow.
I quite regularly have mid-life women express their concern over worrisome changes in memory, cognition and attention. Things like, “I keep forgetting names and words” or “I just don’t feel as sharp” are common complaints in my office. Often these changes are due to hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause, poor sleep and/or increased stress. But the biggest concern from my patient is early signs of dementia. They may have a parent who has been diagnosed, or perhaps a neighbor struggling with dementia, and experiencing these changes can be very scary for a woman.
Most often, these changes are not due to dementia, and I can instead take the opportunity to discuss importance of prevention!
What’s the magic cocktail for prevention of dementia? Well, it’s really quite simple – we need to get up and move, connect with our friends and eat more plants! Yep. I know, I sound like a broken record. Nonetheless, here are a few easy steps to take to lower your risk!
First let’s talk about the benefits of exercise. It’s been shown that exercise can:
🧠 Increase repair of our brain
🧠 Reduce harmful oxidative stress
🧠 Increase clearance of dangerous amyloid-beta (One of the “bad actors” at play in Alzheimer’s)
When it comes to diet, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that a diet rich in vegetables, berries, nuts, fish, lean protein and healthy fats improves virtually all aspects of brain health. In 2015, the MIND diet study (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) demonstrated that after four and a half years, those who strictly adhered to the diet had a 53% reduction in risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, they showed significant gains in cognition – equivalent to a seven year reversal of age!
Brain stimulation and social interaction are also quite important and show promise in reducing dementia risk. So, you might want to consider joining that book club your neighbor keeps inviting you to!
What’s really exciting is that although each one of these has positive benefits on your brain health, the combination of all three may have an even MORE powerful effect. Recently, the World Health Organization published a document called “Risk Reduction of Cognitive Decline and Dementia”, which makes recommendations regarding diet, exercise, brain stimulation AND avoidance of tobacco and excessive alcohol intake.
So, how can you take action to prevent dementia? Here’s one way to start! I’ve linked a delicious Farro Salad recipe from my friend Kate Bolt of Living Lark. Find the recipe here:
Give it a try and let me know what you think! Every step in the right direction is a good step, friends.