More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and by 2050 this number is expected to increase to 14 million. Fortunately, research has identified several lifestyle factors that correlate with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In one study from the National Institute on Aging, people who followed four or all five of the following behaviors had a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. As we welcome a new year, consider adopting these healthier lifestyle choices.
5 Lifestyle Choices Linked to Healthier Brains
1) Meal Plan
Eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and a limited amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium is linked to dementia prevention and healthy aging. Check out these healthy eating tips from CICOA’s registered dietitian:
Vegetables and fruits: Including a variety of dark greens and colorful fruits and vegetables is an easy way to get the antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Buying canned, frozen, fresh, on sale, and in-season produce are all ways to reduce the cost of vegetables and fruits.
Healthy fats: Healthy fats are found in foods like olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish. They contain beneficial properties for your brain, but they also improve the taste and enjoyment of food! Try including olive oil or canola oil, avocado, fatty fish like salmon, ground flax seed, and other nuts and seeds as part of a salad. You can also include nuts and seeds as part of trail mix or a yogurt parfait.
Salt and seasonings: When seasoning food, focus on herbs and spices instead of salt. If cooking from scratch, adding less salt than the recipe calls for can improve sodium intake for the day. When shopping for prepared food, look for lower sodium options and add fresh or frozen vegetables to decrease the sodium per portion. Drain and rinse canned foods to decrease sodium content.
Whole grains: Choosing whole grains may help prevent cognitive decline. Some easy options include oatmeal or shredded wheat. Another idea is having whole wheat crackers or whole wheat toast with lunch or a snack. Adding quinoa or brown and wild rice in soup or as a side dish is another easy way to increase whole grain consumption.
Protein: Choose lean meats, poultry, beans, fish and eggs. These foods are important for immune function, brain health and maintaining muscle mass. As a bonus, foods such as poultry, canned fish, beans and eggs tend to be less expensive protein sources than red meat.
Dairy: Milk and yogurt are the primary sources of calcium, vitamin D and other essential nutrients. If you are unable to consume dairy, talk to your PCP or RDN find out how to meet these important nutrient needs.
2) Physical Activity
Did you know heart health is closely related to brain health? Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Being physically active doesn’t have to involve buying fancy workout equipment or a gym membership. Check out these ideas for ways to be more active this year.
3) Not Smoking
It’s never too late to quit smoking! According to the National Institute on Aging, even if you have been smoking for decades, quitting will still improve your health.
4) Light-to-Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink may improve your brain health and bring additional health benefits, such as reducing your risk of cancer and falls.
5) Cognitive Activities
Work out your brain as well as your body! Regularly doing activities that engage and challenge your brain may help maintain or improve your brain function. Examples include taking a class, learning a new skill or hobby, doing crossword puzzles, or reading a book.
In addition to these five behaviors from the National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association also includes social engagement as a lifestyle trait that may improve brain health. This includes visiting with friends and family, volunteering and staying involved in the community. While social engagement may look different during the pandemic, you can still enjoy phone calls, video chats and letter writing.
It’s never too early or too late to start adopting these lifestyle choices! If you would like to learn more, check out these articles from the Alzheimer’s Association.
CICOA’s home-delivered meals offer balanced nutrition for seniors. If you know a senior who needs help getting nutritious meals, contact CICOA’s Meals & More program.
Katherine Starr, an AmeriCorps VISTA at CICOA, brings her passion and skill to the Meals & More Nutrition and Wellness project this year. Throughout college, Katherine volunteered 60 hours a semester at a dementia care facility, and she is now excited to help people with dementia and their caregivers live well within their own communities. Katherine received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania and completed a dementia care certification through Presbyterian Senior Care Network and California University of Pennsylvania.