15 Daily habits reducing your risk of dementia

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15 Daily habits reducing your risk of dementia

Over the course of a day, we each make many choices.  How many of them include ways to possibly reduce your risk of developing dementia?  More and more research is showing that lifestyle matters. In 2017, a major report released by the Lancet International Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care concluded that up to 35 percent of dementia cases can be delayed or even avoided altogether.

This news should be encouraging to each of us in modifying certain lifestyle behaviors and habits than could be subtly increasing your risk of cognitive decline.  Certain factors we cannot change such as a family predisposed genetic component for developing dementia.  But, there are still many things you can do each and every day to help lessen the likelihood of ever being given a diagnosis of dementia.  Here are 15 daily habits you can adopt keeping the odds in your favor:

1.  Maintain a healthy weight

A 2017 study published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia reviewed medical records of more than one million adults and determined that people with a larger body mass index in middle age were more likely to develop dementia decades later.  Maintaining a healthy weight, especially starting in midlife, will help protect the brain.

2.  Exercise daily

The Lancet Commission has found that high levels of exercise of daily physical activity appear to be more protective than lower levels of exercise, but any amount is helpful.  Depending on a person’s physical capabilities, any form of movement from walking, bicycling, lifting weights, yoga or even armchair exercises, can be counted as physical activity benefitting the brain. 

3.  Be social

It appears that simply being around others can boost brain health.  Isolation, like depression, often becomes a problem as older adults begin feeling the effects of cognitive decline. Loneliness also appears to be a precursor to dementia.   Volunteering, religious activities, going to the gym, joining clubs, being neighborly, all are ways of socializing enhancing brain functioning.

4.   Learn throughout your entire life

Just because you graduated from high school or college years ago does not mean an end to your education. There is always something new to learn.  Beginning in childhood and throughout your adult life, engage in some sort of learning activity such as learning a second language, taking music or art lessons, take up a new craft or learn a new skill.  Any sort of activity that expands your mind can help to avoid emotional and mental neglect.

5.  Treat hearing loss

Although there is not proof that hearing loss causes cognitive decline, studies show that those who suffer from it will have higher rates of dementia eventually. If you are experiencing hearing loss, get it checked out and corrected as soon as possible as this can contribute to cognitive decline as you age. 

6.  Get a good night’s sleep

How many hours do you sleep each night?  If you are sleeping less than five hours a night – or more than ten – this appears to raise your risk of dementia and an early death, according to a 2018 report in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

7.  Eat a Mediterranean-style diet

To protect your mind, part of it means eating foods that also protect your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet is one of the best eating patterns you can follow each day.  It’s shown in studies to be one of the easiest healthy-eating diets to follow to protect and preserve brain health. Be sure to include daily lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, fish, and even wine.

8. Protect your head from injury

Even though the brain can recover from common types like a mild one-time concussion, it’s the repeated mild injuries that can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a degenerative brain disease. This is why it is critical that anyone who rides a motorcycle, bicycle, skateboards, or skis, should always wear a helmet.  This also includes all of us always wearing a seatbelt when driving a car.

9.  Do something new each day

If you always do the same routine and never mix it up, or avoid stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s time to step outside the box to benefit your brain. Taking on new challenges and stepping outside your comfort zone provides stimulation that might help your brain maintain its resilience while building your cognitive reserves. Simple things such as taking a different route home, decluttering a closet or taking your dog on a walk in a new neighborhood can be just enough to activate new areas of the brain.

10. Enjoy your cup of coffee in the morning

For those of you can’t quite function until you’ve had your cup of coffee first thing in the morning, there’s good news.  Studies on rats have shown a chemical in coffee may protect against Alzheimer’s disease.  The caffeine itself may also be protective as the rats developed fewer tau tangles in their brains when their drinking water was infused with caffeine. In humans, John Hopkins researchers have shown that 200 milligrams of caffeine – the amount in one strong cup of coffee – can help consolidate memories and make memorizing new information easier.

11.  Form a dog-walking group

Pets can be a big part of our social network. Not only do most of us welcome them in our homes where they become a part of the family, they also are a great source of comfort.  Some surveys show that walking pets with your neighbors or friends can help you feel less lonely which can help ward off dementia.

12.  Get a massage

There’s so much more going on when getting a massage than just relieving muscle stress and tension.  Massages also appear to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol while boosting levels of brain chemicals thought to be associated with positive emotions. 

13.  Have a good belly laugh each day

What a better way to feel automatically better, both physically and mentally, than to have a good laugh.  A good belly laugh produces a chemical reaction that elevates your mood, reduces pain, stress, and blood pressure, and boosts immunity. Humor therapy may also be just as effective as some prescription drugs at reducing agitation in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

14.  Have a cup of tea

Brewing a cup of black or green tea contain rich sources of antioxidants called catechins that may fend off oxidative damage throughout the body, including the brain. Green tea is also a rich source of epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which has been shown to reduce beta-amyloid plaque and tau tangles in mice.

15. Dance the night away

Dancing earns the top award for keeping socially smart.  When learning new dance steps you are also boosting your intellectual fitness. Dance is fun which helps reduce stress and ballroom dancers have performed higher on tests of cognition than nondancers.  So, no matter what kind of dance moves you have, the important thing is to put on some music and dance the night away.