Lifestyle Changes Have Proven To Work For Long-Term Brain Health
As I shared in the previous blog post on why Leaders Should Worry Now About Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Alzheimer’s is a disease that can be in the brain for as long as 20 years before you are symptomatic. This is one of the main reasons why everyone, especially leaders, needs to start making these necessary lifestyle changes as soon as possible. You are never too young, too fit, too mentally acute, or too smart to put off thinking about the long-term health of your brain.
No one is sure yet why more women than men are affected by Alzheimer’s. However, it is suspected that hormones, and the changes that occur as a result of menopause, and the years leading up to it, during which estrogen levels start to plummet, play a factor. As neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi notes, “As estrogen declines, it leaves the brain a little bit unprotected and vulnerable to everything else. When women are in their 40s, their brains really start to look like they are aging faster than the brains of men who are exactly the same age.”
Perhaps most worrisome, considering the growing obesity epidemic around the world, elevated blood sugar and prediabetes can double your odds for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research by scientists at the University of Bordeaux in France published in the Journal of the American Medical Association studied over 6000 participants all above the age of 65. They concluded that there are seven lifestyle choices that increase the risk of dementia:
- BMI over 25
- Not exercising regularly
- Not eating fish twice a week or fruit and vegetables three times a day
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Having high cholesterol
- Having high blood sugar
Interestingly, but again not surprising, following the Mediterranean diet reportedly can delay Alzheimer’s disease by as long as three years, and perhaps even help prevent it completely. Several population studies have found that those who eat a Mediterranean diet — mostly plants, fish, and olive oil with limited intake of red meat, sugar, and processed foods — tend to be less prone to Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that lifestyle changes have proven to work for both long-term brain and body health. A large study of more than 21,000 American adults aged over 65 found that the prevalence of dementia had fallen by 25% over the 12-year period 2000 to 2012. In their paper presenting these findings, the researchers suggested this decrease may be due to increases in education and better control of risk factors for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Studies such as this provide some optimism — and clearly defined roadmaps — for taking charge of brain health through the use of tools, techniques, and general lifestyle choices that are likely to improve mental function, strengthen heart health, and reduce the occurrences and impact of elevated and chronic stress.
For more information on this important topic, please see the earlier posts in this series on brain health and its impact on leadership and decision making:
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.” It also received a Distinguished Favorite Award in the 2019 Independent Press Awards leadership category.