5 things that may help protect you from dementia

Lifestyle changes we make in our 20s, 30s and 40s can help guard us from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, research shows.

If someone asked what you’re most scared of when it comes to health, what would it be?

In Australia, our fear of developing dementia is second only to that of being diagnosed with cancer, according to 2011 report Dementia is Everybody’s Business.

And with good reason.

Dementia is the second major cause of death of all Australians, and the leading cause of death for Aussie women.

“We know numbers are on the increase, so while there’s 472,000 Australians living with dementia now, that’s likely to increase to 590,000 by 2028,” says Dementia Australia executive director operations Leanne Emerson.

But new research is showing positive changes made in middle age can play a crucial role in helping stave off the condition.

Reducing the risk of dementia

A 36-year-study from UK researchers suggests those who exercise regularly, eat healthily and quit smoking can reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life.

And in his new book, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, American neurosurgeon and broadcaster Dr Sanjay Gupta argues we can “build up a cognitive reserve” and that no matter what your DNA, you can slash your Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia) risk factors by paying attention to your health in your prime.

In a US interview, Dr Gupta said: “Your ability to be actually able to process, to understand, to apply (your brain), that really – not only does it not change, it can actually get sharper, can get better as you get older if you continue to use it.”

Leanne agrees lifestyle factors can have a significant impact on brain health – and making changes as young as in your 20s can benefit not only your brain.

“A healthy brain starts with a healthy heart, being physically active, challenging your mind, being socially engaged and having a balanced and nutritious diet,” she says.

“You can’t take your brain health for granted, it’s important as exercising your body.”

5 ways to achieve good brain health

Here are five things the experts agree you can do to help keep your brain fit:

  1. Exercise regularly

It is recommended adults 18-64 years be active on most, preferably all, days every week, with two and a half to five hours of moderate exercise per week.

“Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the growth of brain cells and the connection between them,” says Leanne.

  1. Look after your heart

What’s good for your heart is good for your brain, says science, with studies finding people diagnosed with heart disease may have more brain changes – impacting their memory and function – than people with healthy hearts.

  1. Mentally challenge your brain

It’s about constantly engaging your mind and you need variety, says Leanne.

“A lot of people think, I do the crossword every day, I’m OK,” she says.

“But if you want to keep strengthening your brain connections and developing new brain cells you need to vary your activities all the time. “Learn a new language, take up a new hobby and stay socially connected.”

  1. Nourish your body

Sugar can be toxic to the brain, with research revealing high blood glucose levels may be a risk factor for dementia.

A healthy, balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, fish, grains, nuts, legumes and lean meat is recommended by Dementia Australia to help in maintaining your brain health and function.

  1. And, relax!

We know that without sleep, the brain struggles to function properly however studies have linked poor sleep with longer-term cognitive decline, including the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Seven to nine hours, peeps.

Written by Liz McGrath.