Developing dementia is a common fear as we get older, but there are plenty of small lifestyle tweaks that can help keep your brain sharp and reduce your risk of the disease. Here are a few to try now…
Take a probiotic
Much has been said about how a healthy gut impacts a healthy mind, and recent research – including a 2016 study by Kashan University – is now suggesting that adding live bacteria supplements (which contain ‘friendly’ probiotics) to our diets can be useful in preventing neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Try a supplement like Bio-Kult (£9.49, boots.com) and add it to your morning routine.
Schedule in a walking meeting
We all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but staying fit and active can also help our mental acuity, too. “Plenty of research shows that regular exercise reduces your risk of dementia,” explains Dr Jo Rushworth, an associate professor at De Montfort University in Leicester and expert in dementia. “In fact, one study followed women for up to 44 years and found that those who were fitter in mid-life had a lower risk of developing the disease.” But what happens if you find it hard to fit exercise into your working day? Jo suggests scheduling in a walking meeting. “Instead of having a discussion at a desk, why not walk around the building or around the block?” she advises. “The same goes for meeting up with friends. Rather than sitting in a café for a couple of hours, arrange to meet somewhere where you can take a walk, such as a park or nature reserve.” Why not join H&W in our #walktowellbeing campaign to up our daily steps and feel fitter and healthier – head to Instagram to take part.
Call a friend
Got a spare 10 minutes? Use it to phone a friend and say hello. Researchers at University College London have found that being socially active lowers the risk of developing dementia, and academics suggest it may be because socialising promotes the use of memory and language.
Download a language learning app
Instead of spending your lunchtime mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, use this time to learn a new skill – and keep your brain young at the same time. “Research shows that learning to speak another language increases your ‘cognitive reserve’, which essentially toughens up our brain cells to stop them deteriorating with age,” explains Jo. “Language learning is a great workout for the whole mind because it involves memory, communication and lots of processing and thinking. One study showed that learning Chinese as an adult can actually re-organise the white matter of the brain, making the mind more flexible and powerful in the same way that weight training can enhance your muscles.” We love the Duolingo (duolingo.com) or Mirai iStart (mirai-llp.com) apps.
You may not have heard of this herb before, but it’s a great adaptogen – meaning it can adapt to your individual needs and help support balance in the body. “Originally used in traditional Indian ayurvedic medicine, this herb is becoming increasingly popular in the west and is well-known for its ability to reduce stress and promote a calmer sense of being,” explains Henrietta Norton, a nutritional therapist and the founder of Wild Nutrition. And, research suggests it can also help combat neurodegenerative diseases, too. “The active ingredients in ashwagandha, called withanamides, have shown protective effects against B-amyloid-induced plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. This is thought to be due to the natural antioxidants found in ashwagandha that scavenge free radicals to prevent cell damage,” Henrietta adds. Buy an ashwagandha supplement such as Wild Nutrition’s Ashwagandha Plus (£19.50, wildnutrition.com) and try it as part of your daily routine.
Book a hearing appointment
You may not naturally associate hearing loss with dementia, but new research from the University of Washington School of Public Health has revealed that sensory impairments such as vision loss and hearing problems may be related to an increased risk of the disease later in life. Experts suggest this may be linked to the fact that hearing loss can lead people to feel isolated and lonely, which can increase your risk of developing dementia. If you’re worried you may have a problem, talk to your GP or book in for a hearing test today.
Cook oily fish for dinner
If you’re debating what to have for your evening meal, pick up some salmon, mackerel or sardines and create a delicious, mind-boosting treat for all the family. Results from a 2017 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggest that consuming lots of omega 3 fatty acids increases blood flow to areas of the brain linked to learning, memory, depression and dementia. “It’s important to eat two to three portions of oily fish a week to consume enough essential omega 3 fatty acids, as they support heart health, brain function and antiinflammatory proteins,” adds Henrietta.
Watch a quiz show
Is watching an episode of Pointless your guilty pleasure? Well, it turns out you should be celebrating your TV-watching hobby, not hiding it. “Any sort of activity that challenges the mind helps to strengthen the connection between our brain cells and makes us more resilient to ageing. But this doesn’t mean we have to read encyclopedias and join Mensa!” says Jo. “There are plenty of TV programmes which will stretch our minds, particularly if we play along with friends and family – the game show Pointless is good tea-time watching or try Only Connect if you really fancy a challenge, as this show combines problem solving, lateral thinking and memory.”