Aging is a natural process that causes changes to the entire body, including the brain. It is completely normal to worry about brain health as you age. While some changes in cognitive function are part of the normal aging process, this does not mean we are all destined to develop dementia. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests we may be able to delay or prevent cognitive decline.
In this article, we will discuss how to prevent cognitive decline through research-backed dementia prevention strategies and the best way to stay in touch with your brain health.
How we spend our time has a much greater impact on brain health than you might think. Experts estimate that only 10% of longevity can be attributed to healthcare services and only 30% to genetics, while 60% can be attributed to individual behaviors and social and environmental factors.
While some risk factors for cognitive decline cannot be changed, many risk factors are modifiable. A growing body of research suggests that several elements of healthy living may help ward off cognitive decline.
Exercise is such a powerful tool. It boosts our energy and mood; reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, several types of cancer, and falls; promotes restful sleep; and helps us control our weight.
Emerging research suggests regular exercise may help prevent cognitive decline, as it promotes brain health both directly and indirectly. Exercise can stimulate the release of molecular targets, such as the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN), which increases synaptogenesis (the formation of synapses), making it easier for us to learn and retain information. Exercise also improves mood and sleep and reduces anxiety and depression, all of which can contribute to cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet are three of the most studied and well-established diets for brain health and dementia prevention.
These diets are typically very low in sugar, processed carbohydrates, and saturated fats. They often include foods like leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, whole grains, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds, berries, and healthy fats like olive oil.
In recent years, researchers have discovered a robust relationship between sleep and brain health. Getting enough sleep is arguably just as important as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
In the short term, lack of adequate sleep can affect our judgment, mood, and ability to learn and retain information. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may increase the risk of developing dementia later in life.
For adults aged 18 to 60, the CDC recommends seven or more hours of sleep per night. For adults aged 61 to 64, seven to nine hours are recommended, and for adults aged 65 and older, seven to eight hours are recommended.
Many brain health experts have theorized that social and cognitive stimulation can help build up your “cognitive reserve,” where cognitive reserve refers to your brain’s ability to efficiently use networks of neuron-to-neuron connections. This enables individuals to effectively execute neurocognitive tasks, even as the brain changes over time.
Activities that stimulate your brain, such as practicing crossword puzzles, learning a new language or new skill, meditating, spending time in nature, listening to music, and taking up new hobbies, along with high levels of social interaction, may help strengthen your cognitive reserve.
Cigarette smoking has been linked to many serious health risks, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Over the past two and a half decades, researchers have discovered a significant connection between smoking, cognitive decline, and dementia. Research suggests smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia and may accelerate cognitive decline in individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Smoking cessation is associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia.
Hearing loss is a surprising and newly discussed risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. In a study that tracked more than 600 adults for almost 12 years, researchers found that hearing loss correlated strongly with the development of dementia. Mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk, moderate hearing loss tripled the risk, and those with severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia. Several studies have also demonstrated that the use of hearing aids for hearing loss may reduce the risk of developing dementia and help prevent cognitive decline.
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