Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent dementia. But while there are some risk factors you can’t control – like genetics or ageing – there are several other factors that we can manage through changes in lifestyle. Changes that make you feel good regardless!
Be physically active
Doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. It’s good for your heart, your circulation, your weight and your mental head space!
The most important way to incorporate physical exercise into your routine is to find a form of exercising that works best for you. It’s also helpful to start with a small amount of exercise and build on it gradually – even 10 minutes a day is better than nothing!
Find something you enjoy, like learning to dance, or go swimming, play lawn bowls, join a yoga class or a walking group. If you find exercise boring, rope in a friend to join you – a walk and talk is a great way to catch up instead of meeting for a coffee or talking on the phone.
Build movement into your everyday life so it feels less like ‘exercise’. Try walking to the shops instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, or even parking further away from your destination so you’re forced to walk there can help inject a bit more physical activity into your day.
A healthy, balanced diet may also help reduce risk of dementia – it will also help to combat other conditions including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.
There are certain foods that have been found to help combat cognitive decline. These include raw leafy greens (kale, spinach), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), blueberries, beans (lentils, chickpeas), nuts, fish, whole grains, low fat dairy and olive oil.
Spices like sage, cumin, and cinnamon contain lots of polyphenols, which are compounds that offer numerous benefits for memory and brain health.
Sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds all contain antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin E, zinc and omega-3s, that reduce cognitive decline.
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Eat protein (such as oily fish, beans, eggs or meat) at least twice a week.
- Limit sugar and salt intake.
- Eat less saturated fat.
- Drink 6–8 glasses of water each day.
Exercise your brain
Keeping your mind active also helps reduce risk of dementia. Regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease – hence the saying ‘use it or lose it’.
Find something you like doing that challenges your brain and do it regularly. Why not study something, learn a new language, do puzzles, crosswords or quizzes, play card games or board games, read or write, and communicate regularly with friends and family. Volunteering or joining a club or community group are also good ways to stay socially active.
Smoking has been shown to put you at much higher risk of developing dementia as it harms circulation of the blood around the body, including the blood vessels in the brain, heart and lungs. Removing smoking from your life will also reduce your tendency to suffer from stroke, cancer, heart and lung disease, diabetes, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Reduce your alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol consumption over time can result in brain damage that produces symptoms of dementia. If you drink alcohol, stick to the recommended Australian guidelines of no more than two standard drinks on any one day, and try for at least two alcohol-free days per week.
Get enough sleep
Sleep in particular plays a major role in brain health as it gives your body a change to rest and repair. It’s critical for alertness, mood, clear daytime functioning and cognition. Increasing evidence shows that sleep disturbance or a lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing depression, cognitive problems and dementia later in life.
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