How does our lifestyle cause dementia? We take a look at changes you can make right away for dementia prevention and brain health preservation.
850.000 people are currently living with dementia in the UK alone, according to the NHS, a number that is expected to rise to over 1 million by 2025 (1). This disease causes a rapid decline in cognitive and neurological functions and as of yet has no cure. Now while for many this makes growing old sound like a terrifying prospect, it’s not all bad news! Research has shown that there are ways we can make changes to our lifestyle to stimulate our brain to perform more effectively and limit the risk of developing dementia. Let’s take a look at some of the ways our lifestyle affects our brain!
What causes dementia?
Although the triggers for dementia have not been definitively proven, and some risks are genetic, research has shown that the sharply rising number of cases can be linked to what people generally call a “Western lifestyle” (2). What does this mean, I hear you ask? Essentially, it means that we consume an excessive amount of sugar, saturated fats, processed food, red meat and lead generally more sedentary lives with little physical activity. Other trends include: sleeping far less (or more!) than we should, being unable to unwind when stress starts to mount and unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking excessively.
It should also come as no surprise that these lifestyle choices lead to health conditions like obesity, with an alarming 1 in every 4 adults in the UK currently falling into this category (3). Besides increasing our risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, obesity can severely impact the efficiency of our brain, causing inflammation, impaired memory and damage to our cognitive abilities (4). These are risks that can certainly be managed and controlled, so by engaging in these unhealthy habits, you’re not doing yourself or your brain any favours.
Top Tips for Dementia Prevention:
Eat the right food
Let’s start with some changes you can make to your diet. The Mediterranean diet has been widely recognized by research as an effective way to slow the rate of cognitive decline (5) and involves consuming high levels of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish, while strictly limiting your intake of red meat and processed food.
Studies have also shown that an increased consumption of foods containing omega 3 is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia (6), which the Mediterranean diet certainly provides through an increased consumption of fish, nuts and seeds. This diet has also proven to be effective at preventing obesity (7), which as we’ve already heard, is a major trigger for dementia. Take a look at our blog post here for a detailed list on what to eat for dementia prevention and to protect your brain.
More water, less alcohol
The Alzheimer’s Society recommends that you drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every day, while limiting any sugary drinks and cutting down on alcohol (8). There is also good news for all coffee drinkers out there: early research has indicated that caffeine may reduce the risk of developing dementia as it helps to reduce inflammation in the brain (9). However, the effects of caffeine are still hotly contested, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and consume only in moderation.
And finally, while it is strongly recommended to consume less alcohol, the Mediterranean diet also allows for a moderate amount of red wine, so you don’t have to cut out alcohol completely! Doesn’t sound too tricky, does it?
Move and rest your body
Following these dietary guidelines is a great start to reducing your risk of developing dementia, but to maximize results there are other changes that you can easily introduce into your daily routine. Physical activity is of utmost importance, as regular exercise not only helps to prevent a number of serious health conditions, but also reduces stress levels and improves mental health, both of which are factors that have been linked to dementia. Currently it is recommended that you do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week (10). As it has been suggested that people with low levels of vitamin D in their blood are more than twice as likely to develop dementia (11), why not try to do some exercise outside? A brisk walk or jog in the sun could do wonders for your health!
Beyond this, the importance of sleep cannot be ignored! People lacking in sleep are in danger of increased inflammation and toxins and an average of 7-8 hours of shut-eye is needed for your brain to fully regenerate and recover. Feeling too tired can also cause you to crave sugary, processed treats instead of natural, nutritious food. Not ideal if you’re trying to improve your diet! But beware of oversleeping too: Research has shown that needing more than nine hours of sleep could be an early sign of cognitive decline (12).
Breaking bad habits
By making changes to your lifestyle now, your brain will thank you later. Dementia prevention becomes much more realistic when we actually want to break bad habits and live a healthier life. We realize that often it’s hard to kick old habits and start afresh, which is why the Reset Your Health plan makes it as easy and accessible as possible to kickstart your journey to health. If you’re experiencing cognitive decline make sure to reach out to a healthcare professional as soon as possible, but by implementing some of the tips we’ve recommended, you’ll increase your chances of maintaining your brain power for many years to come.
- About Dementia. [Internet]. NHS. [cited 2020Sep08]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/about/
- Kanoski SE, Davidson TL. Western diet consumption and cognitive impairment: Links to hippocampal dysfunction and obesity. Physiology & Behaviour. 2011. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21167850/
- Obesity. [Internet]. NHS. [cited 2020Sep08]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/
- Loef M, Walach H. Midlife obesity and dementia: Meta‐analysis and adjusted forecast of dementia prevalence in the united states and china. Obesity A Research Journal. 2012. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23401370/
- Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Medicine. 2015. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25447615/
- Szczechowiak K, Diniz BS. Diet and Alzheimer’s dementia – Nutritional approach to modulate inflammation. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 2019. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31356838/
- Bendall CL, Mayr HL, Opie RS, Bes-Rastrollo M, Itsiopoulos C, Thomas CJ. Central obesity and the Mediterranean diet: A systematic review of intervention trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29039967/
- How to reduce your risk of dementia. [Internet]. Alzheimer’s Society. [cited 2020Sep08]. Available from: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-dementia
- Eskelinen MH, Ngandu T, Tuomilehto J, et al. Midlife coffee and tea drinking and the risk of late-life dementia: A population-based CAIDE study. J Alzheimer’s Dis. 2009. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19158424/
- Physical Activity. [Internet]. World Health Organization. [cited 2020Sep08]. Available from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/physical-activity#tab=tab_1
- Littlejohns TJ, Henley WE, Lang IA, et al. Vitamin D and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease. Neurology. 2014. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4153851/#:~:text=Conclusion%3A,vitamin%20D%20in%20nonskeletal%20conditions. (no pubmed link)
- Westwood AJ, Beiser A, Jain N, et al. Prolonged sleep duration as a marker of early neurodegeneration predicting incident dementia. Neurology. 2017. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28228567/