We mentioned in previous articles (Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Risk Factors for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease) that healthy lifestyles could significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Here is how these healthy habits can improve our chances of staying healthy longer.
The World Health Organization
According to the new recommendations from the World Health Organization, it is possible to reduce the risks by practicing regular physical activity, by not smoking, by avoiding the harmful use of alcohol, by controlling one’s weight, by favoring eating a healthy diet and striving to maintain good blood pressure, as well as maintaining low cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Therefore, these constitute almost all healthy lifestyles, but the studies should have included quality social life, quality of sleep and healthy stress management.
Physical activity is one of the demanding activities for the brain that helps maintain or increase our cognitive reserves. The demanding activities are those that call upon several systems at the same time: eye-movement coordination, balance and speech, rhythm and movements, etc.
In addition, physical activity improves blood circulation and the health of the mitochondria (our small energy powerhouses). The healthier the mitochondria, the healthier our small blood vessels. Physical activity has been shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus (seat of memory).
Good news, a recent study reports that physical activity would improve memory from that very day. Therefore, you didn’t have to be physically active for 10 years, but it would be beneficial to think about getting active every day. The impact could be up to more than 50% reduced risks of dementia.
An observational study of 4213 people followed for 10 years, demonstrated a larger brain volume, and this was found, for the different parts of the brain, in people who had a better diet. Foods associated with a larger volume of the brain are a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, dairy products and fish. The consumption of beverages containing sugar is inversely correlated: the less we consume, the higher the volume of the brain.
The “Mind” diet, for “mind, memory, consciousness”, was specifically developed to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This diet would reduce the risks by 54%. Here are the main elements:
Foods to prioritize: leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries (blueberries, bilberries, strawberries, etc.), legumes (pulses), whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine (in moderation).
Risky foods: red meats, cheeses, butter and margarine, pastries and sweets, fried or fast foods.
Note that following the recommendations of Canada’s new food guide is already a great start.
A final point about food and the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s: eggs. Eggs are rich in three elements that are highly beneficial for the brain: lutein (the yellow pigment), vitamin B12 and choline. A recent study points out that many aging people are deficient in choline (as is the case with vitamin B12) and that choline blocks the production of beta-amyloid plaques characteristic of the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s. It would also reduce the activation of microglia which causes inflammation in affected people and accelerates development.
There is no problem eating 1 or 2 eggs a day.
Quality social life
The Harvard University study, presented by Robert Waldinger, on adult aging, clearly demonstrated that quality social life is not only a source of happiness, but also a source of health. People with good social lives live longer and healthier lives.
A recent study reports analyzing data from 10,228 people for 28 years: an increase in social life at the age of 60 reduces the risks of dementia later in life. Those who see friends almost every day at the age of 60 have a 12% reduction in the risk of dementia. It is likely that this percentage would be even higher if the quality of social life was higher, as pointed out by Harvard University.
Quality social life includes: being surrounded by family; friends, favour quality over quantity, do not maintain a long-term rivalry, express your emotions and improve your ability to manage your emotions and stress.
Healthy stress management and sleep problems
Several studies have shown an increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s in people who sleep 5 hours or less a night in recent years. It is of course a sleep that is neither deep nor fully restorative. A small percentage of the population would still be able to fully recover from short nights of sleep.
It also seems that some meditation exercises could greatly reduce stress and the risks of Alzheimer’s. Although it is difficult to associate a reduction percentage with it, in the absence of precise studies on the subject, it seems obvious that stress reduction is an effective prevention approach.
Keep in mind that it is possible to have very big impacts on the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Start improving your lifestyle bit by bit, one thing at a time and in general. Congratulate yourself for all the small successes accomplished!
- Croll et al, 2018. Better diet quality relates to larger brain tissue volumes: The Rotterdam Study. Neurology. 2018 Jun 12;90(24):e2166-e2173.
- Henry et al, 2019. The relationship between sleep duration, cognition and dementia: a Mendelian randomization study. Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Jun 1;48(3):849-860.
- Khalsa, 2015. Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;48(1):1-12.
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- Morris, et al, 2015. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep;11(9):1015-22.
- Robert Waldinger : Qu’est-ce qui nous garde heureux et en bonne santé tout au long de la vie? – TED Talks
- Sabia et al, august 2019. Association of ideal cardiovascular health at age 50 with incidence of dementia: 25 year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study. BMJ 2019; 366.
- Samieri et al, 2018. Association of Cardiovascular Health Level in Older Age With Cognitive Decline and Incident Dementia, JAMA. 2018; 320(7):657-664.
- Sommerlad et al, august 2019. Association of social contact with dementia and cognition: 28-year follow-up of the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS Medicine August 2, 2019.
- Velaquez et al, Sept 2019. Lifelong choline supplementation ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease pathology and associated cognitive deficits by attenuating microglia activation. Aging Cell. 2019 Dec;18(6):e13037.
- Wahlin and Nyberg, 2019. At the Heart of Cognitive Functioning in Aging. Trends in Cognitive Sciences July 11, 2019.
- Weng et al, august 2019. Acute exercise effects predict training change in cognition and connectivity. journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Aug 2.