The aging process doesn’t just affect how well we’re able to get around, it will eventually change our ability to remember and learn new things. This could be slowed or prevented without medication, by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle.
When You Eat, Not What You Eat
Previous research has found that vascular dementia (caused by poor blood circulation), which accounts for 15 to 20 percent of dementia cases in North America and Europe, is related to metabolic diseases.
These conditions are often associated with being overweight or obese. So researchers looked at the most effective way to cut calories, to see if this affected vascular dementia risk.
They settled on intermittent fasting. This involves restricting when you eat instead of what you eat. Intermittent fasting as a way to restrict calories has been shown to be more effective in reducing weight and fat compared to conventional dieting.
A 2019 review indicates intermittent fasting can reduce neuroinflammation and DNA damage, and improve vascular function. The authors stated that intermittent fasting could be an effective dietary approach to reduce vascular dementia risk, prevent its onset, and ameliorate its pathology.
Another study found intermittent fasting even reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Methods of intermittent fasting include:
- “Leangains” protocol, which involves eating for eight hours and fasting for 16 hours between feedings
- The eat-stop-eat protocol, which involves fasting for 24 hours once a week
- The 5:2 diet, which is eating only 500 calories on two nonconsecutive days of the week and then normal eating for the other five days
Exercise, Even for 6 Minutes
We know that exercise offers amazing health benefits, and there are many training options to choose from—nearly all of which will improve health and preserve cognitive abilities to some degree.
But time constraints prevent many people from even attempting to incorporate fitness into their daily routine.
The most recent research finds only six minutes of high-intensity exercise could extend the lifespan of a healthy brain and delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists discovered that a short but intense bout of cycling can significantly increase the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and that could protect against age-related cognitive decline. BDNF promotes the survival of neurons and the brain’s ability to form new connections and pathways.
Interestingly, they also found that intermittent fasting had no effect on BDNF production.
“The next step is to show that as well as improving this biological marker of brain health, these very brief exercise sessions improve cognitive functions like memory, attention, and speed,” neuroscientist Henry Mahncke, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience and is the CEO of Posit Science, developers of BrainHQ, told The Epoch Times.
The types of exercise recommended are different at each stage of Alzheimer’s disease, to fit what a person is capable of engaging in, Mahncke said.
Healthy people could do more independent exercise. “A cognitively healthy older adult might engage in running or swimming,” he explained, “and a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia might engage in a group movement or activity class.
“You’re never too old—but scientists would agree that starting earlier will help you more.”
Be More Social, Build More Relationships
Social isolation is a known dementia risk factor that’s linked to other serious health conditions like heart disease and depression.
According to recent research from Johns Hopkins University, socially isolated older adults have an almost 30 percent increased risk of developing dementia than older adults who are more socially active.
Johns Hopkins researchers defined social isolation as having few relationships and few people with whom to interact.
This was measured based on whether participants lived alone, spoke about important matters in the past year with two or more people, or attended religious services or social events.
They were assigned a point for each item, and those scoring zero or one were classified as being socially isolated. Participants were routinely given cognitive tests over a nine-year period.
About 26 percent of those classified as socially isolated developed dementia, compared to less than 20 percent of those who weren’t.
A 2022 study found isolated, middle-aged people showed lower gray matter volumes (brain mass) in temporal, frontal, and other regions of the brain.
“Given the high prevalence of both social isolation and dementia among residential/nursing home residents, our estimate of the social isolation-dementia association may be an underestimate of the association in the general population of older adults,” the study authors concluded.
Quit Smoking, and the Time Does Matter
Middle-aged smokers are more likely to report memory loss and confusion than nonsmokers, but the risk of cognitive decline is lower for those who have quit, even if it was recently, finds a study from Ohio State University.
This is the first time researchers have examined the relationship between smoking and cognitive decline using a one-question self-assessment.
“The association we saw was most significant in the 45–59 age group, suggesting that quitting at that stage of life may have a benefit for cognitive health,” senior study author Jeffrey Wing said. “A similar difference wasn’t found in the oldest group in the study, which could mean that quitting earlier affords people greater benefits,” the study authors said in a statement.
The prevalence of subjective cognitive decline for smokers in the study was nearly twice that of nonsmokers. But among those who had quit less than 10 years ago, the prevalence was only 1.5 times that of nonsmokers.
Underscoring the long-term benefits of quitting, participants who stopped smoking for over 10 years before the survey had a subjective cognitive decline prevalence only slightly greater than nonsmokers.
“These findings could imply that the time since smoking cessation does matter, and may be linked to cognitive outcomes,” lead study author, Jenna Rajczyk, said in a statement.