As we grow older, the worry about Alzheimer’s stealthily creeps into our daily thoughts. I heard this concern just recently when a friend told me she was having difficulty remembering names, a skill that she had never questioned before. I reassured her that forgetting names isn’t Alzheimer’s; instead, it’s forgetting how to use a key to open your front door.
Still, we all want to find the magical pill to protect ourselves from this dreaded disease. Most recently, that magic pill has been advertised as online brain-based trainings that have lured many people to spend their money and time in an effort to protect their brain. However, the FTC ruled that one company – Lumos Labs – has to pay $2 million in fines for making “unfounded” claims about how their games could protect users against Alzheimer’s.
So is there a way to protect your brain? Experts increasingly believe so, but it requires a change in lifestyle instead of a quick fix. Here are the steps to take:
- Physical exercise. Researchers have found that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Therefore, make time in your busy schedule for a regular walk, a workout at the gym, a Zumba or yoga class, or other type of physical exercise. Varying your exercise routine engages both your brain and your muscles so try new classes and activities on a regular basis.
- A healthy diet. There’s lots of food for thought out there on this one. I have been a proponent of a Mediterranean diet for a long time because research regularly suggests that it might offer some real brain benefits. However, I may switch over to the MIND diet, which is a compilation of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (specifically designed for heart health). The MIND diet, which received stellar marks from experts of long-term and short-term weight loss in the recent rankings by U.S. News and World Report, focuses on 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables, all other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. This dietary approach also suggests avoiding regular consumption of red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheeses, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
- Learn new things. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that keeping the brain engaged increases its vitality, helps strengthen current brain cells and their connections, and may help grow new brain cells. I’d suggest engaging in activities that use different parts of your brain. For instance, I’m really good at words so I love to play Words with Friends and participate in a book group. However, I also try to do Sudoku regularly (which uses my rusty number skills) and am learning more about gardening (which involves planning and spatial reasoning).
- Lower stress levels. Researchers have found that stress really messes with the brain. In fact, I went to one Alzheimer’s Association presentation where a well-regarded clinical neuropsychologist recommended avoiding news shows that primarily feature stories designed to insight viewers’ fear and anxiety because these set up your brain for unmitigated stress that can lead to Alzheimer’s. Knowing the potential harm that stress can induce, I’m doing everything I can to purposefully remove stress from my life. That includes ending toxic relationships, reworking my home environment to make it calming and inviting, hanging out with my dog (who makes me smile), meditating and doing Qigong.
- Socialize regularly. Socializing is a great way to work your brain. While saying “no” to those toxic relationships, say “yes” to spending time with friends and family members who support you and make you feel good. Volunteer on a regular basis. Take part in community events and spend time around others in a coffee shop. Join a book group or take classes that offer new learning and stimulating conversations.
In our 24/7 world, we want instant gratification. Protecting yourself from Alzheimer’s, however, isn’t a sprint that you can complete in 10 seconds; instead, think of it as a marathon based on lifestyle choices that you make and then continue to embrace. Fortunately, these strategies will not only help you protect your brain, but can help you live a long and fulfilled life.