Health & Fitness

Worried about Alzheimer’s? Cut your risk by making changes now in your diet and exercise

Exhale yoga teacher, Leilanie Paz, center, leads fitness enthusiasts in stretching and breathing exercise at a Jungle Island yoga event in August. By practicing yoga and meditation, along with eating healthy and boosting your aerobic exercise levels, you can reduce some of your risks for getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Exhale yoga teacher, Leilanie Paz, center, leads fitness enthusiasts in stretching and breathing exercise at a Jungle Island yoga event in August. By practicing yoga and meditation, along with eating healthy and boosting your aerobic exercise levels, you can reduce some of your risks for getting Alzheimer’s disease. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a cognitive disorder that affects your memory and cognitive functioning. Current treatments can help slow the decline of cognitive function, but there is no cure yet. Additionally, we now know that AD more than likely begins years, if not decades, before clinical symptoms of the disease become apparent.

What changes can one make now to minimize the risk factors that lead to this crippling disease? Conservative estimates say that 35 percent of that risk may be modifiable through changes you can make in middle age and beyond.

Modifiable risk factors to stave off cognitive decline include:

Recognizing and treating cardiovascular risk factors, which are also risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Increasing aerobic exercise through high-intensity workouts, outdoor activity such as biking or walking, and strength training.

Eating a healthy diet to help maintain cognitive function. Recommended diets include:

The DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet: Emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils and limits sodium, sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats.

The Mediterranean Diet: Emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats while greatly reducing the intake of red meat.

Other steps include:

Increase mental activity by playing games, puzzles, staying socially connected to others, and challenging your brain to try something new.

Reduce stress through practicing meditation and yoga, which has been shown to reduce atrophy in the hippocampus, an area of the brain typically shrunken in people in AD.

Stop smoking and cut back on alcohol, both of which put one at increased risk for heart disease.

Not all risk for AD can be avoided; however, an individual who wants to proactively decrease their own risk of developing AD can try to follow these steps to improve overall better health.

Elizabeth A. Crocco, M.D., is the medical director of the University of Miami Health System Memory Disorder Clinic, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience & Aging (CNSA), part of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

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