How to keep your brain healthy
We are all at risk of cognitive decline as we age. However, dementia (a set of symptoms that includes memory loss and difficulties with language and problem solving) is not inevitable.
A study conducted by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care has found there are nine factors that affect the likelihood of developing dementia. These range from a poor education to hearing loss and smoking.
While for many of us our schooling is too late to change, there are some ways we can help reduce our risk of some types of dementia. Here are some lifestyle choices that you can make to support your brain health at any age.
Manage your blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure (BP), puts extra strain on your brain. Untreated, it can put you at a higher risk of certain forms of dementia, such as vascular dementia. If your BP is above the healthy range, you may be able to reduce it by stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise. Have regular BP checks and speak to your GP if you are concerned. If your reading remains high or you have a family history of high blood pressure, your GP may advise you to take medication.
Control your cholesterol
According to the Alzheimer’s Society there is evidence of a relationship between high cholesterol levels in mid-life and developing dementia later on. High cholesterol in the blood can also have a negative impact on your health beyond the risk of dementia, and many of us can lower our levels by eating a healthy, balanced diet, cutting down on saturated fats and being more active. See more on cholesterol here.
Reduce your sugar intake
Researchers from the University of Bath have reported that excess glucose damages the body’s immune system’s ability to respond to the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. It was already known that diabetes patients face an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but the Bath findings show that high blood sugar can be harmful in the early stages of the disease. Read these tips on reducing sugar in your diet.
Be physically active
The Alzheimer’s Society says that regular physical exercise in middle-aged or older adults reduces the risk of developing dementia (and is good for your heart and mental wellbeing too).
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet has a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, as well as low levels of red meat and sugar. This type of diet will help reduce your risk of dementia, as well as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Try to cut down on saturated fats (found in pastries, cakes, biscuits and most cheeses) and limit sugary treats. Keep an eye on your salt intake too - salt raises your blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke. Read food labels to see what’s in it and seek out healthier options.
Lose any extra weight
Researchers in the US have found that people who are overweight or obese at the age of 50 could develop Alzheimer’s at an earlier age than others. They also found the higher the BMI (body mass index) the earlier people tend to get the disease. For advice on how to lose weight healthily, see NHS Live Well.
Smoking leads to a 30-50% increased risk of developing dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. Not everyone who smokes will get dementia of course, but two of the most common forms of dementia – Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia – are linked to problems with the vascular (heart and blood-vessel) system. Giving up will reduce your likelihood of problems such as strokes or developing other serious conditions such as heart and lung disease. Find out more via the charity’s online Dementia Risk tool.
Give your brain a daily workout
Read, do puzzles, play cards or learn something new, such as another language, suggests the Alzheimer’s Society. “If you can keep your mind active, you are likely to reduce your risk of dementia,” it advises, adding that if you keep socially engaged and have a good social network this may also reduce your dementia risk.
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