Thanks to modern medical technology, people are living longer now than ever before. But how much does it really matter if your brain can’t keep up?
The sad fact is that there’s still no cure for Alzheimer’s once the disease takes hold. But if you make the right choices, early enough and often enough, you might be able to spare yourself the devastation of a diagnosis down the road. Or you may be able to slow the progress.
5 ways you could be harming your brain health
The wrong choices, however, could rob you of your memory and doom you to a retirement derailed by steady cognitive decline…
1. You’re not getting enough quality sleep.
We all know we should be getting our six to eight hours a night. But if you’re still waking up exhausted every morning, it may not matter how much sleep you clocked—at least, not to your brain. Because when it comes to cognitive risk, sleep quality matters just as much.
Research has found that people with low blood oxygen levels (from conditions like sleep apnea) are more likely to have brain tissue abnormalities called micro infarcts. And that reduced deep “slow wave” sleep—which is essential for memory processing—eats away at brain cells. Another recent study showed that reduced REM-stage sleep has direct links to dementia.
In other words, going to bed early just isn’t enough for brain health. You need to be completing full, uninterrupted cycles of sleep in order to preserve your brain power. Reducing distractions such as light, addressing any pain issues and taking relaxing supplements such as chamomile, passionflower or melatonin can help you get back on track.
2. Your blood sugar isn’t well controlled.
To preserve your brain health it’s important to rein in your blood sugar. And this isn’t just a warning for diabetics, either.
As part of a recent study, researchers performed brain scans on 249 volunteers between 60 and 64 years old. All had normal blood sugar, according to the World Health Organization’s standards. But, imaging showed that even subjects with blood sugar in the high end of this range suffered higher rates of brain shrinkage—specifically in areas of the brain related to memory and cognition.
The takeaway: Sugar batters your brain, even when your numbers look safe on paper. So don’t wait until you’ve reached the official danger zone to start watching your diet.
3. You’re not eating enough salad.
Speaking of diet, you also need to be meeting your leafy green quota… or your brain can and will suffer the consequences. It’s true: Recent research shows that people who eat at least one serving of leafy green vegetables every day benefited from a slower rate of cognitive decline. In fact, tests revealed that salad-eater’s brains were the equivalent of 11 years younger than their non-salad-eating peers.
But of course, eating more leafy greens is just one feature of a dementia-proof diet. Your overall habits matter for brain health, too. Studies show that sticking to healthy eating habits also minimizes brain shrinkage. In this case, that means plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish—and of course, limiting sugary drinks.
4. You’re not taking your vitamins.
Well, two vitamins in particular—vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Because both play a documented role in dementia risk.
B12 deficiencies are shockingly common among seniors—affecting one in four older folks, by some estimates. Here’s why that’s so dangerous: Among other problems, low B12 leads to elevated homocysteine. This potentially dangerous amino acid has ties to both heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
But supplementing with B12 can help to neutralize this threat to your brain health. And studies show that your brain benefits because of it. Eating more fish and shellfish, lamb, beef, yogurt, and eggs can help to boost B12, too.
Deficiencies in vitamin D are also staggeringly common. And unfortunately, research indicates that this doubles your risk of dementia. Sunshine is your best natural source of this “vitamin.” But even if you manage to squeeze in 20 minutes of sunscreen-free exposure daily, you probably still need a daily supplement. Just make sure it’s the D3 variety.
5. You’re not staying active.
Get up and get moving. Dementia prevention really doesn’t get simpler than this. Or more effective.
Studies reveal that physical fitness in midlife is a strong predictor of how much brain shrinkage you’ll suffer later down the line—with couch potatoes faring far worse than regular exercisers. And the fitter you can stay, the better your brain health. Because other research shows that women who are highly fit in middle age are 90 percent less likely than even moderately fit women to go on to develop dementia.