Almost 6 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s disease, the crippling form of dementia that causes memory loss and deteriorating behavioral changes, and two-thirds are women.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s usually begin to show when a person is in their mid-60s, but experts say that the disease begins to manifest in our 40s as a result of harmful lifestyle habits we adopt as early as our 20s.
Fortunately, researchers are seeing evidence that Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented by adopting healthy habits if we start making these lifestyle changes by our 40s.
The key to prevention is in reducing inflammation and the buildup of plaque in the brain.
Scientists at research centers across the country, including UCLA’s Longevity Center and Harvard Medical School’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit, promote these six healthy lifestyle practices to help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease:
Get Enough Sleep
Amyloid plaque builds up in our brains to protect brain cells. This is good in normal amounts, but a buildup of too much plaque can damage brain cells. The plaque builds up when we are awake, and the excess is flushed out when we sleep. Getting enough quality sleep is crucial to this function.
Adapt Stress-relieving Practices
When you are stressed, the body secretes the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to help you react. This is great if you have to jump out of the way of a car or defend yourself in an argument, but chronic stress response damages many of your organs, and especially your brain. It is important to have healthy ways of dealing with stressors in your life. Meditating just a few minutes each day can lower stress hormone levels, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Maintain Social Connections
Isolation and loneliness increase stress, inducing a chronic stress response. If you feel lonely, reach out to friends and family, volunteer your time, or seek work in an environment that builds community.
Exercise is vital for good brain health. It reduces inflammation in the body, cleans out plaque in the arteries, and stimulates the growth of new brain cells.
Stimulating your brain through studying new subjects, learning new hobbies, or completing puzzles helps your brain form neural connections and keeps them firing.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Scientists are learning that there is a strong connection between the health of our digestive tract and our brain. A diet high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and low in fat, sugar, and processed foods, builds a healthy gut microbiome, which reduces inflammation throughout the body and protects the brain.
Deb is a health coach and award-winning health and wellness writer covering plant-based nutrition, fitness, sustainable living, mental health and relationships. Deb also writes for the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and manages YouOnPlants.com, helping people eat more veggies. She lives near her daughter in St. Petersburg, Florida, and travels often to Southern California to visit her son. Deb enjoys nature parks, restaurants with vegan options, movies, and the end of hurricane season.