Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia would be much less common if not for the ageing process itself. As we age, our bodies build up a variety of biological changes that increase our risk of developing dementia. Some of these include increased brain shrinkage, a reduction in certain brain chemicals, and an increased number of brain cell deaths. But there are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing dementia.
Although age is the most significant risk factor for dementia, data suggests that there are things you can do to minimise your own risk. These include staying active, eating healthy, and mentally exercising
1. Physical exercise
Regular physical activity is one of the most effective methods to lower your risk of dementia. It benefits your heart, circulation, weight, and mental health.
You may find it difficult to begin becoming more physically active, or you may be concerned that doing so will require you to engage in an activity you dislike. It’s critical to pick activities that suit you. It may be beneficial to begin with a small amount of activity and gradually increase it.
Aerobic activity and strength-building activity are the two basic types of physical activity. Each style will keep you in shape in a different way. Combining these exercises will help you lower your risk of dementia. See the dropdown list below for samples of each activity category.
Aerobic movement benefits your heart, lungs, and blood circulation, as well as your mental health.
Anything that causes you to breathe faster and feel warmer is considered moderate intensity’ aerobic activity. ‘Vigorous’ activity is defined as anything that causes you to sweat or run out of breath within a short period of time, making it difficult to speak without halting for breath.
One minute of strenuous activity is about equivalent to two minutes of moderate-intensity activity. The official UK advice is to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of strenuous activity every week. If it is more convenient for you, you can divide this task into smaller sessions.
Spending less time sitting or lying down and more time moving is also a good idea.
Strength training exercises your key muscles (legs, back, stomach, shoulders, arms). This makes it easier to do daily tasks. This form of movement also helps you control your blood sugar levels and lower your risk of diabetes, which is a risk factor for dementia. Strength-building activities should ideally be done at least two or more days each week.
Suggestions for Staying Active
Choose an activity that you will enjoy so that you will be more inclined to continue doing it.
Track your progress with a wearable device (such as a wristband fitness tracker) or a smartphone app (such as Public Health England’s ‘One You Active 10 Walk Tracker’ app or ‘Couch to 5K’ app). Set a goal for yourself and attempt to keep to it. Aiming for 10,000 steps per day is a good goal for many people.
Workout videos, such as those available on the NHS website, may be beneficial.
Hiking clubs, for example, are a terrific opportunity to meet new people and communicate with them. This keeps the brain busy and engaged.
Continue to participate in activities such as tai chi, pilates, and yoga if you love them. They are also beneficial to your balance and flexibility and may help you avoid falling. There is some indication that tai chi may lower your risk of dementia, but further research is needed to confirm this.
2. Consuming nutritious foods
Eating a healthy, balanced diet may reduce your risk of dementia, as well as other conditions including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.
There is no single substance, nutrient, or food that can promote brain health on its own. Instead, consuming a variety of foods in the proper quantities makes a difference. This is referred to as a ‘balanced’ diet.
A balanced diet increases your chances of getting all of the nutrients your brain requires to stay healthy. The NHS Eatwell guide shows what food groups make up a balanced diet and roughly how much of each is needed to stay healthy.
Some eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, are especially beneficial in preventing dementia. A Mediterranean-style diet does not always imply eating foods from Mediterranean countries. Instead, strive to adhere to these rules.
Include wholegrain starchy foods in the majority of your meals, such as wholemeal bread, rice, and pasta.
Consume more fruits and vegetables, pulses (such as beans, peas, and lentils), and nuts and seeds.
Reduce your consumption of red meat, such as beef and lamb, as well as processed meats such as sausages and bacon.
Consume fish on a regular basis, preferably oily varieties such as salmon and mackerel. However, minimise your intake of battered or breaded fish, which is heavy in harmful fat.
Wherever feasible, consider low-fat dairy products.
For cooking and dressing, use vegetable and plant oils such as olive oil and rapeseed oil. Avoid solid fats such as butter, lard, and ghee.
Limit the amount of salt in your diet to no more than 6g (about a teaspoon) per day.
Sugary foods, such as pastries, sweets, biscuits, cakes, and chocolate, should be reserved for special occasions.
Consume alcohol in moderation (ideally with food) – if you don’t already, don’t start.
3. Avoid smoking.
If you smoke, you significantly increase your chances of developing dementia later in life.
Smoking does a lot of harm to the circulation of blood around the body, particularly the blood vessels in the brain, as well as the heart and lungs.
It is never too late to give up smoking. However, the sooner you stop, the less brain damage you will sustain.
Suggestions for Quitting Smoking
Speak with your doctor or pharmacist about several strategies to quit smoking.
Use a date or event to motivate yourself to stop. You may, for example, make it a new year’s resolution.
Consider using a less harmful nicotine product such as e-cigarettes (vaping), lozenges, patches, mouth and nasal sprays, or gum.
Try the NHS Smokefree support services, which include a helpline, an app, and local support.
4. Consume less alcohol
Too much alcohol raises your chances of developing dementia.
If you consume alcohol on a regular basis, try to do so in moderation and within recommended limits. Drinking too much alcohol at once exposes your brain to dangerous compounds.
Try not to consume more than 14 units of alcohol every week. This is roughly equivalent to one pint of beer or a small glass of wine every day. If you regularly drink much more than this, you are increasing your risk of damage to your brain and other organs, and so increasing your risk of dementia.
If you consume up to 14 units of alcohol per week, spread them out over at least three days.
Set a weekly alcohol limit for yourself and keep note of how much you drink.
Have a few alcohol-free days per week.
Try low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks, as well as lower drink amounts.
Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages such as cola, water, or juice.
Inform your friends and family about your decision and how they can help. This can make it simpler to drink less, particularly at social gatherings.
Use specific dates and events to inspire yourself. You may, for example, make a new year’s resolution to drink less.
5. Maintain mental and social activity
Engaging in mental or social activities may help to build up your brain’s ability to cope with disease, relieve stress and improve your mood. This means that engaging in these activities may help to delay or even prevent the development of dementia.
Find activities that you enjoy that challenge your brain and engage in them on a regular basis. This could include puzzles or crosswords, but there are many additional options.
Anything that engages your mind, processes information, and improves your thinking skills is beneficial to your brain and lowers your risk. As an example:
any kind of adult education or learning arts and crafts (especially in groups) playing a musical instrument or singing volunteering, for example, volunteering with Alzheimer’s Society doing ‘brainteasers’, such as puzzles, crosswords or quizzes
playing card games, chess or board games \reading books, becoming a member of a book club \creative writing, keeping a diary or learning a new language.
If you have a smartphone or tablet (such as an iPad), you might enjoy apps that stimulate your mind. Apps in this category include puzzles, memory, and board games.
Social activities are also beneficial to the brain, making them an excellent way to reduce your risk of developing dementia. This includes communicating with others both online and in person. This means it’s critical to maintain contact with those who are important to you, such as friends and family.
Why are social activities beneficial to the brain?
A conversation with someone can also exercise a variety of mental talents, such as:
actively listening to and communicating with the other person considering the meaning of what someone is trying to tell you and how they feel finding the right way to express what you want to say and putting words together in the right order for someone to understand recalling things that have happened which are relevant to what you’re talking about.
Take charge of your health.
Certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, are more likely to develop as you get older. These disorders can raise the likelihood of developing dementia.
Going for a health check is an important method to avoid this.
If you live in the United Kingdom,
Your GP may invite you to an NHS Health Check, or you may contact them to schedule an appointment.
This NHS Health Check is available to anyone aged 40–74 who lives in England and does not already have diabetes, heart, kidney or circulation problems. It is intended to detect any early indicators of these illnesses and prevent them from worsening. This check-up should ideally be done every five years.
After your health check, you can discuss any concerns with a healthcare professional and get advice on looking after your health, including reducing your risk of dementia.
Even if you already have one of these conditions, it is critical to have regular health check-ups. However, you are not required to schedule an NHS Health Check in advance.
If you reside in Wales,
You can use the free online health and wellbeing check ‘Add to Your Life.’
If you are a Northern Irish resident,
Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS) charity offers a free ‘Well Check’.