by Brooke Noble
MANITOULIN—We continue to see a high occurrence of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) because of our aging population. However, the good news is that rates have declined per capita thanks to huge strides in recent research. Currently, there is no cure, however scientists predict that one-third of all cases can be prevented through lifestyle. A lot of evidence shows certain lifestyle factors can reduce risk. These include exercise, nutrition, sleep, cognitive engagement, social interactions, managing stress and treating depression.
Exercise can help prevent as well as slow AD progression. Current recommendations to reduce risk is to exercise at least 150 minutes (at least 30 minutes five times weekly) and resistance exercise (strengthening) twice weekly. To get started, even 15 minutes daily has significant benefits, but more is better. Researchers at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC) are presently working to find the amount needed for the best outcomes. What we do know is that to achieve health benefits, exercise needs to be intense enough to raise heart rate and breathing.
Nutrition recommendations for reducing AD risk is following a Mediterranean eating pattern. This pattern is made up of whole foods, mostly plant-based foods, fatty fish, healthy fats such as extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and daily use of herbs and spices. Optional intake of red wine in moderation can be included. However, it is best not to start if you do not drink. This eating style is high in antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory, both of which are vital for AD prevention. It also limits saturated and trans fats, refined grains and sugar, all of which can be negative for brain health.
The MIND diet suggests that dark leafy greens and berries are also beneficial. Further, a KU team found that milk and dairy consumption was associated with higher antioxidants in the brain. This is important for brain protection. Participants who consumed three servings of milk per day (vs. those who consumed less) had higher brain antioxidant levels. This same team also found that diets high in glycemic index (processed grains, low-fiber grain products and foods that cause a higher spike in blood sugars after meals) was associated with a higher level of a brain marker seen in AD, reinforcing the importance of limiting refined grains. See chart for more details.
Adequate sleep is also central to reducing the risk of AD. It is important to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night and quality is also key. Try to make sure that your sleeping quarters are comfortable and only used for relaxation. Additionally, if you have a sleep disorder, proper treatment to improve sleep quality is essential.
Cognitive engagement is associated with preserving cognition. Lifelong learners consistently have a lower risk of developing AD. Some ideas for cognitive engagement include taking a course, learning a new skill, brain teasers or solving riddles. Crossword puzzles and computer games are not backed by evidence-we need more challenge. However, if you like them, then go for it! Or you may choose to use the time for more exercise, which is proven to reduce risk.
Socializing is just as important for AD prevention as it is for mental health. Developing and maintaining even a few meaningful relationships is beneficial, even in those with a genetic risk for AD. Social media interactions have not been found to have the same benefit. Those who are socially isolated tend to have more health concerns and are at higher risk for AD. Ideas for social interactions include joining a walking group or church, volunteering with a community organization and scheduling regular visits with friends and family.
Stress, anxiety and depression cause changes in our body that lead to an increased risk for developing AD. Several local resources are available to help with these challenges. Reach out to a health care professional to get connected. You are not alone; many people struggle with these health challenges. Ignoring them can negatively impact your health and brain.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brooke Noble, formerly of Gore Bay, is pursuing her Ph.D. in Medical Nutrition Science at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC). She is researching how what we eat impacts brain aging. Ms. Noble is collaborating on lifestyle intervention trials to combat Alzheimer’s Disease with world-renowned scientists in nutrition, Alzheimer’s Disease, brain imaging and neurology at University of Kansas and University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC). The KU ADC is one of the 31 highly competitive National Institute of Aging Centers of Excellence nationally designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the United States that is working to translate research advances to improve diagnosis care and hopefully prevention of AD. Prior to joining the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease, Ms. Noble practiced as a Registered Dietitian on Manitoulin Island and surrounding area family health teams/medical center, hospitals and nursing homes for seven years.