You don’t have to be a genius to understand that as your brain goes, so go your health and happiness.
If you can keep your cognitive powers humming through middle and later years, chances are you’ll also improve everything from your cardiovascular system to your social life. That’s why, today, we want you to start thinking – and discover just how to help protect your mind and body from dementia, whether it’s caused by atherosclerosis, mini strokes or Alzheimer’s disease.
A groundbreaking study recently revealed the simple steps that should be the cornerstones of your personal dementia-prevention plan. The FINGER Study (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study) followed 1,260 folks ages 60 to 77 with modifiable risk factors for dementia: diabetes, obesity, poor nutrition, etc.
Researchers found that a lifestyle makeover – adding more physical activity, better nutrition, increased social support, brain-stimulating activities and fun to your life, plus taking care of any heart-health issues you may have – delivers big brain benefits.
After just two years, people on this “demolish dementia” regimen scored significantly higher on tests of memory, thinking skills and mental processing speed than a control group who got only good advice. This study will have a seven-year follow-up to track participants’ development of dementia and to look for biomarkers using MRIs and PET scans.
Around the world, there’s plenty of other ongoing medical research that we’re rooting for. Some will improve diagnosis, including experimenting with smell, eye and blood tests that can detect super-early signs of brain changes. Others are focusing on medications that might stall or prevent dementia’s onset. There’s even research on brain-tissue transplants that may be able to reverse the ravages of this progressive disease.
But we think the FINGER Study’s recent results show that you don’t have to wait for a revolutionary medical treatment to help protect your brain from cognitive decline.
So, here’s how to lower your risk, even if you’re one of the 25 percent of American adults with a gene mutation called APOE4 that increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Manage stress: This is key. Learn to meditate (sharecare.com has step-by-step instructions), do progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or whatever tames your keyed-up feelings. It’s also good for the brain to spend time with friends and family, and to pursue your passions, too.
2. Move it!: People who are physically fit in their middle years are up to 35 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s later on. But it’s never too late to boost your brainpower; regular walking can increase growth in the brain’s hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which is important for building and protecting memory, even if you’re in your 60s, 70s or 80s.
3. Eat like you live along the Mediterranean: Good fats found in olive oil, salmon, sea trout and nuts, along with plenty of fruits and veggies, lean protein, 100 percent whole grains and a smidge of low- or no-fat dairy is the way to go. This diet could cut your risk by 15 percent to 40 percent. Bump up your intake of brain-pampering omega-3 fatty acids by taking a daily supplement containing 900 milligrams of DHA, too.
4. Control known brain-damagers: Stop smoking (everything) and avoid second- and third-hand smoke or fumes from tobacco, marijuana and vaping! Take high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and diabetes very seriously: All three damage blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your brain. Ignoring these conditions could boost your risk for vascular dementia – caused by clogged vessels or mini strokes – by as much as 46 percent!
5. Challenge your brain in new ways: Dust off your guitar, break out the Scrabble board or learn a complicated new card game. Doing brain-stimulating activities just three days a week in midlife and beyond can fend off dementia by three to eight years or longer. The key: New thought patterns encourage your brain to grow new neural connections.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.