Worried about Alzheimers disease? Youre in the majority.
A national survey says its North Americas most feared disease. While nothing, so far, can guarantee youll prevent or reverse the plaques, tangles and nerve-cell death that characterize Alzheimers, it turns out keeping the blood vessels in your brain healthy may cut your risk of brain dysfunction by a lot. Theres more and more evidence from academic and scientific brain centers around the world that a few simple steps can protect your cognitive powers and slash your risk for Alzheimers.
A new picture of what causes cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimers disease, and how to prevent it, is emerging. In it, your brains vital supply lines the tiny blood vessels that deliver oxygen and fuel to every one of your 100 billion plus gray cells play a bigger role than we used to think. Recently, scientists peered into the brains of more than 4,000 people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease and found that nearly 80 percent also had signs of serious blood-vessel damage within their brain. In another new report, brain scientists found that blood vessel problems associated with high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol in middle age and diabetes (they reduce the healthy flow of blood to the brain) when combined with bodywide inflammation seem to raise the risk for Alzheimers.
OK, Docs, but what should I do to keep my mind agile longer?
Great question! The answer: Preventing or controlling problems with your blood pressure, cholesterol and/or blood sugar levels can lower your odds for Alzheimers by almost 40 percent. So here are five strategies that can cut your risk, starting right now.
We believe this is key. Good studies have been done and more are under way, but we think its worth acting now to soothe mental and emotional tensions in your life and in your head. Stress releases the inflammation-producing hormone cortisol, and chronically elevated levels can wreak havoc on both your cardiovascular and nervous systems. Learn to meditate (do it for 10 minutes, twice a day); do progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or whatever else tames your hyped-up feelings. Also, spend more time with good friends or a loving spouse and pursuing your passions, too.
People who are fit in their 40s and 50s are up to 35 percent less likely to develop Alzheimers later on. Exercise, such as regularly walking 10,000 steps a day, increases oxygen intake and blood flow. That, in turn, improves cognitive function and growth in two brain regions, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, even in your 60s, 70s and 80s! For tips on how to start your memory-enhancing walking program, go to Sharecare.com.
Increasing work-out intensity and adding strength training two to three days a week can ramp up those brain-boosting benefits. Strenuous exercise (that makes you sweat in a cool room), if your doc agrees, increases the size of your hippocampus and that is key for keeping your memories.
A diet rich in good fats found in olive oil, salmon, sea trout and nuts, along with plenty of produce, beans, lean protein, whole grains and a smidge of low-fat dairy could cut your risk of Alzheimers 15 percent to 40 percent. And when you combine this diet with regular physical activity, wow! Youll be 59 percent less likely to develop symptoms of Alzheimers than a couch potato with a high-fat diet.
CONTROL BRAIN THREATS
Stop smoking, please! And take high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes very seriously. Controlling these factors could slash your risk, even if you already have early signs of fuzzy thinking.
TEST AND TRAIN YOUR BRAIN
If youre worried about forgetfulness (your own or a loved ones), ask your doctor about a new blood test for biomarkers (called miRNAs) that have been able to identify people with Alzheimers disease in more than 90 percent of the test cases. And no matter what the test results are, challenging your gray matter can increase sharpness and improve memory.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of The Dr. Oz Show, and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.