Our brain is affected by our physical lifestyle choices just like any other part of our body. Getting the right exercise and nutrition can not only boost your brain health but it can also help combat dementia and may slow down its progression. If you or a loved one are living with dementia, or are at risk of developing it, making some key changes to your diet and exercise can help protect you. Here are some of the main diet and exercise changes you should consider.
Which Diet is Best for Dementia?
The latest research on diet and dementia has added to the growing body of evidence that a healthy diet may protect you from developing dementia and help reduce its severity. According to WebMD, a French study found that seniors who avoided developing dementia had a few dietary habits in common. They ate fish at least once a week and had vegetables and fruits daily. They also used walnut oil, soy oil or colza oil instead of other cooking oils.
This is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, which, according to the Alzheimer Society, researchers have identified as the best option for those with dementia. Those who follow the diet have high levels of antioxidants and low cholesterol, on average, both of which may protect their brain from damage.
If you’re following the Mediterranean diet, you should eat high amounts of:
- Oily fish
You should also eat less (but don’t need to completely eliminate):
- Saturated fat
The Mediterranean diet does include alcohol, but low levels. One glass of alcohol per day for women and elderly men is the recommended maximum.
If the Mediterranean diet isn’t for you, there are other effective options. For example, there has been increased research in the ketogenic diet among dementia researchers. Several studies have now demonstrated that the diet can protect from dementia and even reverse cognitive impairment.
The ketogenic diet involves reducing or eliminating carbs and sugars. Speak with your doctor before you attempt this diet as it may be unsafe depending on your health conditions. If you have the green light to try it, you can eat high amounts of these foods:
- Non-starch vegetables
- Meats and other protein sources
- Berries instead of other fruit
You may also attempt to cut out:
- All sweets
- Starchy carbohydrates
Those who are having trouble converting to a ketogenic diet, as is common, may benefit from adding MCT oil to their diet, to help their body learn to produce and use ketones.
How Should You Exercise to Prevent Dementia?
Exercise can also help to lower your risk of developing dementia. The key is regular, cardiovascular exercise. This exercise will benefit the brain by sending extra blood and oxygen there, and may also allow for other chemical changes in the brain that protect it from damage. Further, one kind of dementia, vascular dementia, is directly linked to cardiovascular health, so regular exercise can help prevent this form in particular.
In general, aim for aerobic exercise or any kind of exercise that raises your heart rate when trying to prevent dementia. Ideally, you’d do this exercise for 20-30 minutes several times a week for the long-term, and always talk with your doctor before you start a new exercise to be sure it’s safe for you.
If your doctor approves, you might consider these aerobic exercises that are gentler on joints:
Remember that you have to implement these changes for the long-term in order to see the proactive benefits. To make sure the changes are something you can incorporate into your daily life, talk with your doctor to create a realistic plan for you.
Looking for more information and support with dementia or concerned about the next steps to take? We encourage you to schedule a call with one of the dedicated Aging Life Care Managers™ in our network.