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How to reduce the risk of developing dementia through diet and exercise

reduce risk of dementia

One of the most common conditions in later life, dementia affects 1 in 6 people over the age of 80. While prevention is never certain due to the varying effects that dementia has on different individuals, there are lots of little things that you can do now - as recommended by the NHS - to help you reduce the risk of developing dementia later on in life. 

N.B. Research into how different lifestyle factors may affect the risk of developing dementia is still ongoing. Do consult your GP for further information. 


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Can you prevent dementia?

While there's no guaranteed way to prevent dementia, you can take active measures to reduce your risk of developing the syndrome.

Risk factors increase your likelihood of developing a disease and, while there are risk factors for dementia that are impossible to change, there are some lifestyle factors which you can alter. 

Making healthy lifestyle changes, including modifying your diet and exercise regime, is also important in improving your overall health and fitness levels, so it's definitely worth reviewing your lifestyle choices as you get older. 

Dementia can't be prevented but, while our likelihood of developing it is mainly down to factors that we can't control, research has found that by adjusting the risk factors we can change, we could lower our risk of developing dementia by up to 30%


Risk factors for dementia

As with any syndrome, there are risk factors that are very difficult or impossible to change. These include:

  • Age - your risk of developing dementia increases with age. 
  • Genetic factors - combined with 'environmental' factors, they can increase your likelihood of developing dementia.
  • Lower levels of education - studies have suggested a link between education levels and dementia.

Research also suggests that the following are risk factors for developing dementia:

  • Hearing loss
  • Untreated depression
  • Loneliness
  • A sedentary or unhealthy lifestyle

Leading a healthier life won't eradicate the chance of dementia developing, but you can make changes in your day-to-day life to help reduce the risk. 

8 ways you can alter your lifestyle to reduce the risk of dementia

reduce risk of dementia


1. Healthy diet

Perhaps an obvious choice, but eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables - high in folates! - is a great place to start, as well as cutting down on your salt (no more than 6g per day) and sugar intake. The latter will prevent your blood sugar levels from rising, which, in turn, will ensure that there is no inflammation in the brain. Blood sugar levels are easy to control if you follow carefully-crafted blood sugar diet recipes. A balanced diet is key as you get older, not just for prevention purposes, but also to improve your wellbeing and quality of life.

Eating healthy doesn't have to be boring though - there are plenty of delicious, nutritious dishes out there that the whole family can enjoy - yes, that includes even the fussiest of grandchildren! If you're at a loss for what to serve, why not try our library of gransnetter's tried and tested recipes for meals that benefit more than just your taste buds?


2. Don't forget your fish oils or your vitamins

Fish oils, a source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, help your brain to stay healthy, as does vitamin D. Be sure to incorporate plenty of healthy fats into your diet by consuming cold water fish, such as tuna and salmon.

Unhealthy fats can increase your cholesterol levels which may put you at risk of developing dementia. While evidence linking the two is inconclusive, a review of 25 studies suggests that there is an association between higher cholesterol levels in mid-life and an increased risk of developing dementia. Mediterranean diet, anyone? 


3. Limit your alcohol intake

It goes without saying that if you're wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle, frequent boozy nights aren't often at the top of the 'to-do' list. 

Consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol  - 14 units per week for both men and women - increases your risk of a multitude of health problems. This includes an increase in the risk of stroke, cancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Drinking excessively can also damage your brain. 

You don't need to cut out the odd tipple altogether, but do be aware of how much you're drinking, especially if you already have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 


4. Stop smoking

Smoking can also raise your blood pressure and cause your arteries to narrow, which may eventually limit the blood flow to your brain. If you're struggling to give up smoking, it may be helpful to find your local NHS stop smoking service for support. 

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5. Get physical

Not only can physical activity make you feel more energetic and happy, it can also reduce your risk of developing dementia. An unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of other health conditions that are risk factors for dementia, including obesity and heart disease. Yes, a healthy body (and around 150 minutes of exercise per week) can definitely lead to a healthy mind.

Regular exercise can also help with coordination, cognitive function (very important if you have been diagnosed with dementia as it'll slow down any further deterioration) and mental stimulation. Depending on your physical condition, activities such as walking, cycling or swimming may help to ease your body into taking regular exercise. It is also beneficial to do a mixture of cardio, strength, balance and coordination exercises. Yoga and dance are especially ideal for incorporating all four.   


6. Challenge your mind

A rich and stimulating environment is important for keeping your mind sharp. Do things that challenge your mind, whether it's Sudoku puzzles, discussing politics with your teenage grandchildren or learning to play an instrument.

Increased blood flow to the brain helps to keep it functioning as normal - it needs regular workouts in the same way that your body does. Some research has shown that staying mentally active can help to ensure that your cognitive behaviour doesn't diminish, which will lower your risk of developing dementia symptoms. 


7. Have an active social life

Human beings are highly sociable creatures. We don't thrive in isolation, and neither do our brains. Staying socially engaged helps us to develop and maintain a strong network of friends and keep our minds active. Regularly connecting face-to-face with a family member or a friend can curb feelings of loneliness and help you to set a weekly routine for yourself, which aids memory and helps mental coordination.

While many of us become more isolated as we age, it's not too late to develop new friendships and reinforce important relationships by volunteering, joining a club or social group and seeing friends or family often.


8. Manage your stress levels

Chronic stress can play a role in increasing the risk of developing dementia, as it can damage certain areas of the brain that affect thinking, memory and emotional response. However, it is worth noting that studies suggest that chronic stress alone does not cause dementia

You can cope with stress in a variety of ways, but noticing that you suffer from it in the first place is key to understanding how to deal with it. Incorporate relaxation exercises into your daily routine, in the same way that you would any sort of physical activity. 

Stress and anxiety can also affect your ability to sleep so it is important to consult your GP if you think you are stressed and are having trouble sleeping. While there is no conclusive evidence that lack of sleep leads to dementia, those who have breathing problems while sleeping are at greater risk of developing dementia symptoms as less oxygen is able to reach the brain. Changes in your ability to sleep soundly is common in those suffering with Alzheimer's. See our tips on natural remedies to help you sleep, but do be sure to check your options with your GP. 

Disclaimer: The information on our diet and fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.

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