How can healthy lifestyle habits help prevent Alzheimer's?

Dr. Gary Small, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Lifestyle factors that can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease include physical conditioning, mental stimulation and cognitive training, stress management and proper nutrition. 

Anything you can do to get your heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells is going to promote brain health. You can walk, run, swim or just move your arms around. A brisk 20-minute walk each day has been associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's.

Physical activity helps send oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells. It also tells your body to make chemicals, like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which help your brain cells grow so they can communicate more effectively. 

Mental stimulation is associated with better brain health. Doing puzzles, pursuing education and performing specific memory training techniques can help make up for mild age-related memory loss—that so-called normal aging decline. If you keep doing them, you can have long-term sustained benefits.

Another way to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease is stress management. We know that chronic stress shrinks some of the memory centers of the brain. Stress management methods can counteract that effect. Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) suggest that 10 minutes of daily meditation rewires the brain and improves mood, cognitive ability and even longevity to some extent.

Nutrition is tremendously important. One of the most important things you can do to ward off Alzheimer’s is to manage your weight. Mid-life obesity increases the risk of late-life dementia, so trying to find and maintain your optimal body weight will protect your brain.

The types of foods you eat is important as well. People tend to eat too much omega-6 fat from red meat and whole milk products, and not enough omega-3 fat from fish, nuts and flax seed. Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, so it protects the brain from excess inflammation.

The average person doesn't get enough servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants protect the brain against oxidative stress associated with aging. If you eat too much processed foods and refined sugars, you can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can double your risk for Alzheimer's.

Dr. Rudy Tanzi, PhD

Certain lifestyle habits can help prevent a number of ailments, including Alzheimer's disease. In this video, Dr. Rudy Tanzi explains why what's good for the heart is also good for the brain.

The five strategies below may offer a measure of protection against Alzheimer's disease, as well as enhancing overall health:
  • Maintain a healthy weight, throttling back on calories if you need to lose weight.
  • Check your waistline. Put a tape measure around the narrowest portion of your waist (usually at the height of the navel and lowest rib), keeping it parallel to the floor. A National Institutes of Health panel recommends waist measurements of no more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, which some public health officials say is overly generous. By contrast, an international study of more than 168,000 people in 63 countries pegged entry to the metabolic danger zone at 31.5 inches in women and 37 inches in men. Attaining a healthy weight and exercising can help pare off inches.
  • Eat mindfully. Emphasize colorful, vitamin-packed vegetables and fruits; whole grains; fish, lean poultry, tofu, and beans and other legumes as protein sources; plus healthy fats. Cut down on unnecessary calories from sweets, sodas, refined grains like white bread or white rice, unhealthy fats, fried and fast foods, and mindless snacking. Keep a close eye on portion sizes, too.
  • Exercise regularly. This helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight and gain better control of blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, biking, rowing), which works many muscles, can help chip away at total body fat and abdominal fat over time. (Sorry, spot reducing doesn't work!) Aim for two-and-a-half to five hours weekly of brisk walking (at 4 mph). Or try a vigorous exercise like jogging (at 6 mph) for half that time.
Ask your doctor whether your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar are within healthy ranges. Exercise, weight loss if needed, and medications help all four.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help to decrease the risk for the development of Alzheimer's disease. It is suggested that eating a healthy diet, exercising and managing life stressors can help reduce the risk. There is the suggestion that a sense of spiritual well-being may also play a role in the reduction of risk.

Numerous studies suggest that eating a healthy diet, participating in regular physical activity and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and weight levels may all contribute to a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease. Researchers are studying the role of genetics in the development of Alzheimer's, but most agree there are a handful of risk factors—whether individually or in combination—that could play a role in acquiring the disease. What's known for certain is the older you get, the greater the risk for acquiring Alzheimer's.

Judith London, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

There is no clear-cut way that Alzheimer's can be prevented but there are steps you can take to delay the onset or lower the probability. The most effective way to ward it off is through physical exercise - this continues to be shown in one study after another. Even moderate exercise such as walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week can help.

Secondly, eating properly helps maintain brain health. This means that the Mediterranean diet works best. Good heart health and brain health are related. Dark colored fruits and vegetable are good, and there is some evidence to indicate that drinking 3 cups of coffee a day delays the onset for almost 2 years. Try to reduce the stress in your life and relax.

Next is mental stimulation by learning something new. That keeps the new brain cells you develop every day interested and alive. Also, the greater the number of activities you do per week, the greater the delay of onset. An activity can be reading, walking, learning something new, going to a meeting, etc.

And last, social interaction is a must. People who interact with others reduce the probability of onset.

So, the important thing to remember is that we should all live this way for good brain health, physical well-being and a better quality of life.

Continue Learning about Alzheimer's Disease Prevention

Is there a vaccine for Alzheimer's disease?
John H. Growdon, MDJohn H. Growdon, MD
One day it may be possible to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease with a vaccine. Several such ...
More Answers
How can eating fish help protect me from mental decline as I get older?
Dole Nutrition InstituteDole Nutrition Institute
According to researchers at Rush University Medical Center, seniors who eat as little as one serving...
More Answers
How Can We delay the Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease?
How Can We delay the Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Are There Any Diets to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease?
Are There Any Diets to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.