Keep your brain fit by keeping these simple lifestyle habits.
New research into Kiwi attitudes towards and awareness of dementia shows it is little understood yet deeply feared – and more than half the population have a personal experience with the degenerative brain disease.
According to overseas statistics extrapolated to New Zealand, around 170,000 people will be diagnosed with dementia by 2050, triple the current figures. Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK and is now a leading health priority for many other western countries.
According to former British prime minster David Cameron, who is now President of Alzheimers Research UK and a leading global campaigner on dementia, too many people are writing dementia off as an inevitable and natural condition of ageing. “Just as we did in the past with diseases like cancer and HIV, today we need to educate, inform and talk more – and more frankly – about dementia,” says Cameron.
So, what can you do to lessen your chances for dementia?
Watch your weight
Among the biggest risk factors for dementia are diabetes and mid-life obesity, which can double your chances of dementia at a later age. Links have also been found between elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and the risk of dementia, although these are not conclusive. Research also suggests that following the Mediterranean diet has its benefits too.
The brain may be affected by the long-term consequences of heavy smoking. Scientists have found smoking to increase the risk of cognitive decline in old age, with one study showing that middle-aged people who smoked more than two packs a day more than doubled their risk of later-life dementia.
Keep active – body and mind
Just 30 minutes a day, five days a week is all that’s needed to ward of a range of lifestyle diseases and conditions, and is the minimum level recommended to reduce dementia risk. When we think of exercise we should also include mental activity as well as physical. By learning new skills and completing mentally challenging activities can help keep you alert.
Maintaining social activities as you get older, such as going to clubs or volunteering, has been found to have a protective effect against dementia. Studies have shown that individuals who maintain a larger social network into old age tend to have better cognitive functions and a reduced risk of cognitive decline. Social contact is one of the benefits of group exercise. Whether it’s walking with company, taking a class, or heading to an exercise facility or gym, getting amongst like-minded people while getting active is a fantastic way to keep social and healthy.
Don’t disturb your sleep patterns
Sleep disturbances, for example chronic insomnia, have been linked to increased risk for cognitive decline in later life. Taking steps to deal with any sleep problems could reduce your chances of getting dementia. However, scientists still don’t understand exactly how disturbed sleep may contribute to the condition, and whether certain dysfunctional sleep patterns pose more of a risk than others.