Alzheimer’s is everywhere—and spreading fast. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that, as of 2018, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Scarier yet, according to the CDC, during the 15-year period between 1999 and 2014 alone, Alzheimer’s deaths in the United States rose by 55 percent.
“It is very important to try and catch Alzheimer’s early,” says Dr. David Greuner, MD, of NYC Surgical Associates, noting, “[Early diagnosis] can slow down the disease’s forward movement, specifically in areas of confusion and memory loss. All that is certain is that the illness grows as time progresses. Patients typically survive between four and twenty years after diagnosis.”
However, it’s not just early diagnosis that can keep you healthy in the long run: research suggests that there’s a wealth of surprising habits that can reduce your Alzheimer’s risk and keep you cognitively fit well into your golden years.
Snack on some chocolate.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your Alzheimer’s risk is also the sweetest: just add some high-quality dark chocolate to your menu. Chocolate is a good source of tryptophan, which can help keep you mentally sharp as you age. In fact, according to a study published in the April 2000 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, low tryptophan levels caused reduced cognitive capabilities among adults with Alzheimer’s, suggesting that boosting levels of tryptophan-rich foods, like oats, dairy, chocolate, chickpeas, seeds, eggs, and red meat, may be able to slow the disease’s progression.
The diet of the moment does more than just help you shed weight fast: it could just be the key to reducing your Alzheimer’s risk, as well. In 2018, researchers at the University of Kansas, who published their findings in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, revealed a link between improved cognitive performance among Alzheimer’s patients who embarked upon a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, so don’t be shy about skipping the bread.
Load up on red fruits.
A little red fruit on your plate could mean a lot more cognitively fit years in your future. Researchers at Georgetown University’s Department of Neurology have found that resveratrol, a phenol found in red fruits, peanuts, and chocolate—and red wine, which we’ll get to momentarily—can help maintain the integrity of a person’s blood-brain barrier, dysfunction of which has been suggested as a potential precursor to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Log at least seven hours of sleep at night.
If you need more incentive to get enough sleep at night make it this: getting sufficient rest can help you reduce your Alzheimer’s risk. According to researchers at the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a lack of sleep increases the amount of beta-amyloid—a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease—in the brain. In fact, just a single night of sleep deprivation shot beta-amyloid levels up a staggering five percent among study subjects. So, don’t be ashamed of that 9 p.m. bedtime if it means you can actually log a full night’s rest.
Lose those extra pounds.
Those extra pounds you’re carrying are doing more than just making you look lumpy around the middle. A review of research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2013 suggests a link between obesity, energy expenditure hormone leptin, and Alzheimer’s risk, so if you’re eager to reduce your risk, there’s no time like the present to start eating healthier and adding some extra exercise to your routine.
Brush up on the classics.
Want to reduce your Alzheimer’s risk? Crack open a good book. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Medicine and Public Health found that individuals who regularly engaged in activities including reading had a lower risk of dementia.
Spend time with your friends.
Hanging out with members of your inner circle could be the key to maintaining your cognitive fitness later in life. Research published in the January 2017 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions revealed a link between staying socially active and a lower risk of dementia, so go ahead and schedule a regular coffee date with your friends when your schedule permits.
Enjoy a glass of red wine.
We’ve all heard of the myriad dangers of drinking, but there’s one great reason to imbibe: the right adult beverages might just lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, thanks to the resveratrol in red wine. Not only does research suggest that resveratrol can benefit the blood-brain barrier, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have found a link between drinking the occasional glass of wine and lower levels of Alzheimer’s-associated toxins in the brain.
Tackle some crossword puzzles.
While the New York Times Sunday crossword might not be everyone’s cup of tea, trying to tackle word puzzles with some frequency could keep you sharp as a tack as you age. In fact, research published in the January 2014 edition of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society reveals that individuals with dementia who regularly did crossword puzzles slowed their cognitive decline.
Listen to music.
Crank the music up and roll those windows down—you’ll be doing your brain a favor along the way. Researchers at West Virginia University found that listening to music can improve memory and reduce mental decline among adults with cognitive issues, so go ahead and dust off that record collection when you get the chance.
Yoga isn’t just the key to a more limber body, it’s also the first step toward a more limber mind. A study published in the April 2017 edition of International Psychogeriatrics reveals that subjects over 55 who practiced Kundalini yoga had improved memory, executive functioning, and diminished depressive symptoms after just 12 weeks.
Meditation does more than just help you bliss out: it’s also a great way to reduce your Alzheimer’s disease risk. According to a study conducted at UCLA, meditation reduced the cognitive decline and emotional turbulence that are often precursors to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, so get in that Zen zone whenever possible.
Complete a jigsaw puzzle.
Your favorite childhood pastime could be the key to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s as you age. According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, recreational activities, including jigsaw puzzles, were associated with lower rates of dementia.
Learn a new language.
Bilingualism is a handy asset when you’re trying to conduct overseas business, enjoy effortless travel to different countries, or just when you’re trying to wow a date. Luckily, it’s also pretty great for your brain, as well. Research published in Neurology reveals that being a polyglot may help delay the onset of dementia, so go ahead and break out those Spanish textbooks from college and start studying.
Get your stress level under control.
Stress is bad for every part of our bodies: it makes us tense, irritable, and even increases the body fat storage hormone cortisol. Worse yet, unchecked stress may even predispose you to Alzheimer’s. Researchers at Sweden’s Umeå University have linked stress with increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s no time like the present to seek professional help.
Enjoy regular workouts.
Hitting the gym is doing more than making you look good: it’s boosting your brainpower with every workout. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reveals that regular exercise can have a preventative effect on Alzheimer’s, while additional research suggests that exercise can also slow the progression of the disease by reducing oxidative damage in the brain. So, even if it seems unlikely that you’ll become an Olympian any time soon, strapping on those sneakers can still keep you plenty fit from the neck up.
Get some natural sunlight.
While too much sunlight can increase your risk of skin cancer, controlled exposure to the sun could reduce your Alzheimer’s risk. According to research published in the journal Neurology, adults with low vitamin D—a vitamin bioavailable via sun exposure—had more than double the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s than their replete counterparts. Fortunately, just 15 minutes outside a day should be enough to sufficiently boost your vitamin D—and if not, supplements can always help.
From wrinkles to lung cancer, many of the dangers of smoking come as little surprise to most adults. However, there’s one smoking-associated condition you might not know about: Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco VA Medical Center have found a link between smoking and increased rates of Alzheimer’s, giving you yet another reason to stop lighting up.
Get your ears checked.
While regular visits to the doctor may help you catch Alzheimer’s in its early stages, they can also help you remedy one of the more surprising precursors to the disease: hearing loss. According to a 2017 study published in The Lancet, untreated hearing loss can increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, so if you’re experiencing changes in your aural ability, it’s time to high-tail it to your GP.
Adhere to the Mediterranean diet.
A diet full of satisfying foods, like olive oil, nuts, salmon, and red wine may sound like a pipe dream. And when you add in the notion that it might actually help your brain as much as your waistline, it definitely sounds too good to be true. The good news? It’s not just a fantasy: Researchers at Columbia University have found a link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.