Seniors Can Reduce Cognitive Risk With Exercise and Lifestyle Changes
Not all seniors experience declines in cognitive function. However, the majority of older adults experience some reduction in the speed in which they process information. Memory, spatial ability, and reasoning also are more likely to decline with normal aging, while verbal ability and comprehension tend to change less. Seniors wishing to prevent the onset of cognitive impairment should engage in regular physical and mental exercise (US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; 2014.) While not all functional changes are preventable, there are many lifestyle changes you can make which will greatly reduce the likelihood of serious impairment to cognition in later life. Here are 10 of the best things you can do:
1 – Change Your Eating Habits
A diet that is low in saturated fat and that contains an abundance of fruits and vegetables is good for cognitive health. The Mediterranean diet, which includes a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and fish, has been associated with a reduced risk for dementia.
2- Stop Smoking
Seniors who currently smoke are at increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline in comparison to those who have never smoked or have quit. Long-term smoking in particular negatively impacts the brain and also compounds the other risk factors to cognitive health, such as vascular disease and depression which may co-occur with other unhealthy habits such as poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
3 -Prevent Head Injury
Studies have shown that head injury increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, with the severity of decline dependent on whether there was loss of consciousness. Make sure to always wear your bike helmet, drive safely, and avoid other risks of head injury.
4 -Reduce Your Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that high blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in late life. Make sure you see your doctor, take any prescribed medications, and incorporate lifestyle changes in order to get your blood pressure under control.
5- Prevent or Control Diabetes
Non-insulin dependent diabetes (type 2) occurring in midlife has been shown to be associated with increased risk for all types of dementia and vascular dementia in later life. In addition, hyperinsulinemia (hi-pur-in-suh-lih-NEE-me-uh) a condition in which blood insulin is higher normal, has been shown to be associated with poorer cognitive performance and with cognitive decline in middle-aged adults and older adults.
6- Control Your Cholesterol Levels
Research shows an inconsistent association of high cholesterol level with cognitive impairment and dementia. However, as with high blood pressure and other vascular risk factors, high total cholesterol in midlife may be associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment.
7- Manage Depression
Depression and cognitive impairment/dementia commonly occur together. Although research has not determined the exact reasons, it is possible that depression can cause structural degeneration in the brain. Lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, avoiding excess sugar and caffeine, quitting smoking, incorporating exercise, meditation, and spiritual practices, and well as getting medical help, are all positive steps to take in managing depression.
Some studies have shown that regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Physical activity also reduces other cognitive risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, and is therefore an important lifestyle change for these reasons as well.
9- Be Socially and Mentally Active
Engaging in cognitive activities such as crosswords, Sudoku, and other brain games is associated with a reduced rate of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s These activities may increase brain reserve, and therefore prevent or delay the onset of impairment or dementia. Conversely, activities such as TV watching, which have low cognitive demand, are shown to increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
Socially active seniors may also be reducing their cognitive risks. Good social networks, emotional support levels, and levels of social engagement and social integration in late life are associated with a reduced rate of cognitive decline and lowered risk for dementia. Social relationships improve other health factors related to cognitive functioning, such as vascular conditions and depression. Avoiding social isolation and maintaining various types of social activities may be protective against cognitive impairment and dementia in late life.
10 – Moderate Your Alcohol Consumption
Light or moderate alcohol consumption (one or two drinks per day), in comparison to abstinence or heavy drinking, may reduce cognitive decline. A meta-analysis which examined the association between alcohol use and cognitive decline/dementia concluded that low to moderate intake is associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, chronic or heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to have a negative effect on the brain.