Researchers are quickly discovering that learning how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, or at least learning how to slow its progression, may be as simple as engaging the mind and body in regular exercise and a consistent brain fitness program. With life expectancy increasing from 50 years to nearly 80 years since the turn of the century, the emergence of novel, neurogenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s have become more apparent and widespread, necessitating further public awareness regarding facts about Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease prevention.
First noted in 1906, a Bavarian psychiatrist named Alois Alzheimer, thought this disease, known now as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was some kind of premature dementia related to senility. However, we now know that AD presents a genetic predisposition at high as 50 or 60 percent in some families.
Because Alzheimer’s is strongly genetic, how can it be preventable? According to an article published by the American Physiological Society titled “Alzheimer’s Disease: Genes, Proteins and Therapy by Dennis Selkoe, one of the risks associated with developing AD is vigorously correlated with the presence of cardiovascular disease. In fact, autopsy studies have revealed that 80 percent of people expiring while experiencing AD suffered from some type of cardiovascular disease.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by Diet and Exercise
Nearly half of people over 60 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease suffer specifically from vascular dementia, or dementia caused by damaged vessels that can no longer carry a sufficient supply of blood to the brain. Vascular dementia usually results from strokes, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure produced by a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diets, smoking and excessive use of alcohol.
The brain requires a steady and rich supply of nutrients, oxygen, and glucose provided via blood flow. When this necessary blood flow is impeded by obstructed or impaired vessels, neurons die quickly. Depending on how much blood is reaching the brain, cognitive difficulties may occur slowly and take many years to reach a critical stage or they may happen suddenly, especially in the case of a major stroke that severely restricts blood flow.
Exercising regularly and eating healthy foods is the key to remaining free of cardiovascular diseases that exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease. Even individuals genetically predisposed to AD can benefit from learning how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease by adhering to a lifestyle that involves eating more vegetables, fruits and grains, drinking water, coffee or tea instead of sodas and walking two to three miles each week. Other exercises recommended for senior citizens are swimming, stair climbing, yoga, and dancing.
Keeping Alzheimer’s Genes “Turned Off”
Genes for all kinds of disorders lay dormant in our cells until they are “turned on” by an external influence and allowed to exhibit their essential nature. For example, research has discovered that people who develop schizophrenia (another highly genetic disorder) have experienced extremely stressful situations that trigger the release of the gene’s attributes. If these events had not detrimentally affected an individual with the schizophrenia gene, that person may have lived a life free of this devastating mental disease but carried the gene as a dormant gene.
Alzheimer’s genes work in the same way, lying dormant until something triggers them, like heart disease. AD genes have other triggers as well.
The brain’s plasticity continues to amaze neurologists. It was once thought humans were born with all the neurons they would ever possess. However, neuroscientists now know that the brain continues to create neurons by a process called neurogenesis, at a rate of possibly millions each day. In addition, new connections are made among the vast supply of brain cells whenever we learn something new.
However, neurogenesis and new connections do not arise by themselves. Without regular stimulation of the brain by reading, memorizing, analyzing, performing “brain boosters” like crossword puzzles, learning a new language and playing card games, new neuronal connections will not develop and the brain essentially begins to wither like a plant without water.
Combining a sedentary lifestyle, bad food habits and habitually doing nothing but watching television with receiving little mental stimulation greatly increases a person’s chance for suffering Alzheimer’s disease. These things not only represent powerful genetic triggers but are also conducive to the development of AD in people without a family history of AD.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by Reducing Stress
The negative effects of chronic stress and anxiety are many–hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, weight gain and psychological disorders. Stress also causes the hippocampus to shrink, a brain structure responsible for long-term and short-term memory consolidation. Although some shrinkage is inevitable due to the normal aging process, someone with AD who is a “worry-warts” or who lives in a constantly stressful situation is more likely to have a hippocampus substantially smaller than those with a normal hippocampus.
Furthermore, a study conducted by Kirk Erickson (et al) titled “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory”, published in the 2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that subjects between 55 and 80 who engaged in regular aerobic exercise actually increased the size of their hippocampus and averted cognitive decline.
Maintaining an active social life by volunteering, joining clubs, taking art or academic classes or just having lunch with friends is another important example that greatly contributes to learning how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Socializing, talking and laughing with friends and family members is an excellent source of “brain food”, stimulating neuronal connections, as well as reducing stress.