We’ve all experienced pesky lapses in memory, from forgetting where we parked to what we meant to grab at the grocery store. Small hiccups like these are normal, says David Geldmacher, MD, director of the UAB Division of Memory Disorders and Behavioral Neurology. The time to worry, however, is when those lapses become more severe. Forgetting recent events and familiar faces, along with difficulty communicating, are signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, a memory disorder that affects 5.4 million Americans. And though age is the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, lifestyle choices are also linked to the disease. Discover five ways you can lower your risk, starting today.
1. Eat by Color. The same diet that is good for your heart is also good for your brain: one low in fat and sugar, emphasizing lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables. Geldmacher says brightly colored fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, and eating across the color palette means you’re getting a healthy mix of them. Get easy, tasty recipes from our UAB Heart Healthy Cookbook.
2. Exercise Your Brain. The old adage “use it or lose it” rings true when it comes to the mind. Engaging in creative activities and problem solving such as art, games, and gardening, may reduce your risk of a memory disorder. “Look for activities that force you to think, to problem-solve, to use your brain,” says Geldmacher. “Card games, puzzles, computer games, even watching a TV game show is good if you play along with the game. But don’t play the same game every time. Mix it up a little.”
3. Join a Book Club. Though reading by itself may not be effective at preserving memory, reading and then talking about the text at a book club or bible study can be very beneficial, Geldmacher says. This is because reading is a passive activity and may not stretch the mind, but analyzing it in order to discuss it can provide a brain boost.
4. Move Your Body. Animal studies have shown the surest way to build better connections between brain cells is through exercise, Geldmacher says. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week, no matter the kind of exercise (from yoga to running) is beneficial to the mind. Conditions such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar are known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and they can be moderated with exercise.
5. Go Fish. More and more research shows that omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in some fish, offer a protective benefit to the brain. Open-ocean fish that prefer cold water, such as salmon, tuna and cod, are the best choices, Geldmacher says.