Encouraging News about Alzheimer’s Disease

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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
    attending lectures.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. To learn more, see www.brainhealth.rutgers.edu or contact the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers University-Newark