By changing your habits and lifestyle,
you have the power to cut your risk in half
BY MARK A. GLUCK, PHD.
PROFESSOR OF NEUROSCIENCE, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY-NEWARK
Yes, there really is positive and encouraging news about the fight against Alzheimer’s disease: By changing your habits and lifestyle, you have the power to cut your risk for Alzheimer’s disease in half.
This is especially important for African Americans, who have over twice the rate of Alzheimer’s disease as compared to most of the population. You can start today to reduce your risk by making six changes to your habits and lifestyle.
- Exercise Regularly
Exercise improves memory, mood, and general brain
function. It reduces stress, improves sleep, lowers risk for
stroke, manages your blood sugar, and increases blood
flow to the brain: all of which improve memory. The more
fit you are, the lower your chance of getting Alzheimer’s
disease. Here are some exercise tips:
• Walk for half an hour or more each day.
10,000 steps a day is a great goal.
• Get 2 ½ hours a week of cardio-fitness exercise.
- Challenge Your Brain
Your brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it! Your brain
can actually shrink from lack of use. People who stay
mentally active have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some suggestions:
• Learn a new skill, or a new language.
• If you play a musical instrument, keep practicing.
• Read challenging books about topics that are new to you.
• Keep your mind sharp doing crossword puzzles and
- Manage Stress
Experiencing moderate stress can sometimes be helpful
for completing tasks that require speed, focus, and
alertness. However, when you are very stressed, your brain
struggles to retain newly learned information. Warning:
Being regularly and repeatedly stressed will damage
memory cells in your brain and increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some stress-reduction habits
you could incorporate.
• Combat stress through regular exercise and better sleep.
• Stress reduction methods such as yoga and mindfulness
classes can teach you to better manage stress.
Mark A. Gluck is a Professor of Neuroscience and Public
Health at Rutgers University–Newark and Director of the
Rutgers Aging & Brain Health Alliance. He has a B.A. from
Harvard University and a PhD from Stanford University. His
best-selling undergraduate textbook, Learning and Memory: From Brain to Behavior, is going into its 4th edition, and has been translated into Korean, Spanish, and German. In 1996, Gluck was awarded an NSF Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Bill Clinton. He has published over 130 peer-reviewed journal articles and is the Principle Investigator on four current research grants to study aging and Alzheimer’s disease in African Americans, including a new five-year $3.4 million dollar award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Dr. Gluck can be reached via email at [email protected].
Learn more about his research lab online at www.gluck.edu and about the Rutgers Aging & Brain Health Alliance at www.brainhealth.rutgers.edu.
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Quality sleep is essential for retaining newly learned skills
and memories. In contrast, poor sleep can lead to an impaired ability to manage stress. Even taking a short nap can improve memory retention. Disrupted sleep, or too little
sleep, puts you at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and
memory impairments. These are some good sleeping habits:
• Keep to a regular bedtime.
• Sleep at least 7 1/2 hours a night.
• Keep your room totally dark and cool.
• No phone or computer screens in the bedroom.
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
Socialize with Others
Socializing improves memory, probably because of the
benefits from human interaction and intellectual stimulation.
On the other hand, being socially isolated increases
your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
• Even if you live alone, you can have a rich social life:
friendship is key to brain health!
• Talking regularly with friends and family keeps your mind
active and preserves memories.
• Partner dancing is good way to both socialize and exercise
at the same time.
- Eat Light and Healthy
Try to maintain a healthy weight for your age and height, lose weight if you are overweight or obese; obesity doubles your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Try to reduce unnecessary, added sugar: it is toxic for the brain. You
should especially avoid high fructose corn syrup additives.
Read food labels! Eat brain and heart-healthy foods like:
• Dark fruits: blueberries and prunes;
• Vegetables: broccoli and spinach;
• Cold water fish: tuna and salmon;
• Nuts: almonds, walnuts, and pecans;
• Beans are a good source of protein and an alternative to meat.
Pay It Forward! Become a paid participant in
research studies on aging and brain health at Rutgers
University-Newark: Do you take one or more pills for your health? Have you ever had a medical procedure that helped you return to health (or maybe even saved your life)? If so, you have benefited from other people who previously participated in biomedical research that led to these treatments and cures. Participating in biomedical research is not about helping yourself, it is about helping future generations. Now is your chance to Pay it Forward!
- To learn more, see www.brainhealth.rutgers.edu or contact the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers University-Newark