The 6 Key Things to Do to Outsmart Alzheimer’s

By Dr. Kenneth S. Kosik | Prevention

Did you know that within the produce section of your grocery store are countless ways to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s? Or that you’re lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s every time you plan a dinner party and puzzle over what to cook, who should sit next to whom and how to ensure all your dishes are ready around the same time the guests arrive?

How fun would it be to know when you step out onto the dance floor you are taking a step away from Alzheimer’s? How relaxing and soothing would it be to know that you’re protecting your brain whenever you unroll your yoga mat, take a morning walk or relax with a short, early afternoon power nap? Did you know that a morning cup of coffee may prevent this disease, but a late afternoon cup of Joe might increase your risk? Or that one glass of wine with dinner offers delicious protection, but more glasses after dinner do not?

Outsmarting Alzheimer's Kenneth KosikHow motivating would it be to know that all of those hobbies and interests that you’ve been putting off—acting lessons, world travel, singing, even bingo — work to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease?

It’s all true. These are just a few examples of the six key Brain SMARTS that have the most scientific evidence for protecting the health of your brain:

S = Social Smarts. Research from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that seniors who frequently spend time with others—dining out, attending sporting events, playing bingo, volunteering, visiting relatives and friends and/or attending religious services—had a 70& lower rate of cognitive decline over 12 years than did seniors with a lower rate of social interactions. When we’re involved with a rich, rewarding and supportive social network, we continually build a network of healthy brain cells and connections among them. Our friends also buffer us from stress, support our brain-healthy habits and fend off boredom and loneliness.

M = Meal Smarts. Diets from around the world can reduce disease, improve longevity and protect the health of the brain. Rich in plant foods and low in highly processed foods, these eating patterns preserve brain function and overall health. Here’s more: Brain-smart eating includes many of the foods and beverages you already have come to know and love: dark chocolate, coffee, wine and much more, but all in moderation.

A = Aerobic Smarts. The more you move, the fewer brain cells you lose. Exercise may even boost the production of new brain cells. Physically fit people also tend to make better decisions, have faster reaction times and mental-processing speeds, multitask more effectively and improve your ability to acquire new knowledge and understanding.

R = Resilience-to-Stress Smarts. Long-term, unremitting stress is bad for your entire body, including your brain. So are depression, anxiety and other chronic emotional problems, raising your risk of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, meditation, deep breathing, massage and other relaxing activities help to keep the brain resilient, so it more easily weathers daily stressors. Also, not all stress is bad for the brain. Some, such as the short stress of an athletic competition or a test, actually keeps your brain sharp.

T = Train Your Brain Smarts. The more you challenge your brain — by learning new languages, playing musical instruments, contemplating brain teasers and more — the better your brain’s ability to fend off Alzheimer’s. Based on results from nearly 2,000 people enrolled in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, we know that a college education, a mentally demanding profession and intellectually engaging hobbies all have the ability to delay declines in brain functioning. Study participants who were carriers of one of the Alzheimer risk genes were able to postpone the development of Alzheimer’s disease by almost a decade if they spent their adult lives immersed in intellectually enriching activities. Study participants without the gene postponed the development of the disease even longer.

S = Sleep Smarts. As we sleep, our brain resets, integrating everything that happened during the day. New experiences and insights are consolidated with older memories. When we sleep too few hours or not deeply enough, we not only feel foggy and less alert, but also prematurely age our brains and raise our risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Men who reported poor sleep habits had a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease within the next 40 years compared to men who reported normal sleep. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you must force yourself to sleep seven to nine hours every night. Experiment to figure out the right amount of sleep for you so that you feel well rested.