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Walking even as little as 1 1/2 hours per week at a pace of 21 to 30 minutes per mile is associated with improved cognitive function and decreased cognitive decline.
There is no known way to prevent dementia. However, there are actions that you can take to reduce your risk for dementia and, in some cases, slow the progression of the disease. These factors include:
- heart healthy behaviors
- avoiding head injury
- mental activities
Some factors may decrease the effect of the damage by developing more connections between the remaining brain cells, rather than preventing damage. With more connections between brain cells, function can be maintained longer despite damage to the brain.
DietA diet that includes a lot of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains may reduce the risk of developing dementia. These foods appear to protect brain neurons from chemicals, called free radicals, that damage cells. The protective chemicals in these foods are called anti-oxidants. Other foods that may protect against dementia include curcumin, the main ingredient in the spice tumeric, and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish.
In one study, women who ate green, leafy vegetables (spinach, for example) and cruciferous vegetables (for example, broccoli and cauliflower) had a slower rate of cognitive decline when compared with women who ate fewer vegetables (Snowdon, 2003). Research has also suggested that a Mediterranean diet, marked by high intake of olive oil and low intake of monounsaturated fat, is associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (Scarmeas et al, 2009).
Exercise leads to a healthier brain, just as it leads to better health for the rest of the body. Exercise and physical activity improve cognitive performance and reduce cognitive decline. The amount of exercise does not have to be extreme. Research has found that moderate activity levels (for example, exercising just 3 times a week) decrease the risk of developing dementia. The effect is increased with a greater variety of activities and there appears to be a benefit even if exercise is started late in life.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
The same factors that protect against heart disease help reduce some of the risk factors for dementia. These include, in addition to exercising and healthy eating, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, relaxing and reducing stress.
Stimulation of the mind increases the number and strength of connections between the brain cells, strengthens the brain cells you have, and even increases the number of brain cells slightly. Examples of mental exercises that are particularly effective include solving puzzles, learning something new, reading challenging material, playing board games, playing a musical instrument, and dancing.
Protect Your Head
Head injury is associated with increased risk for dementia. Protect your head with helmets during sports, wear seat belts, and avoid sports and situations that involve repeated injury to the head.
Older people who engage in regular social activities show less cognitive decline. One reason for this effect is that social activities promote new connections between brain cells.View References Scarmeas N, Luschsinger JA, Schupf N et al. Physical Activity, Diet, and Risk of Alzheimer Disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;302(6):627-637.
Snowdon D. Healthy Aging and Dementia: Findings from the Nun Study. Annals of Internal Medicine. Available at: http://annals.org/issues.aspx. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
- Facts About Dementia: Overview
- Finding Dementia Care
- Getting Financial Help for Dementia Care
- Alzheimer's Disease: Introduction
- Vascular Dementia: Introduction
- Lewy Body Dementia: Introduction
- Frontotemporal Dementia: Introduction
- Other Types of Dementia
- Diagnosing Dementia
- Treating Dementia