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Can you delay dementia?

Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

Don't let that gym membership expire!
Don't let that gym membership expire!
Will & Deni McIntyre/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you want to protect your brain, you might as well protect the rest of your body as well, right? What good is a great brain if the ol' ticker is destroyed? Many of the things that are good for your body are also good for your brain, so many of the tips on this page may sound familiar. Addressing modifiable risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and controlling diabetes may go a long way toward preventing dementia; one study showed that people with three or more cardiovascular risk factors were more likely to develop Alzheimer's [source: Gorman]. Here are some other ways that you can multitask when it comes to your brain health.

First up, exercise. Studies have shown that being out of shape is linked with a higher likelihood of dementia [source: Bakalar]. Regular cardiovascular exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, it also gets the blood pumping to your brain. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that followed more than 2,000 men aged 71 to 93; researchers found that the men who walked less than a quarter mile a day were nearly twice as likely develop dementias as those who walked two or more miles each day [source: Rabins].


After some brisk exercise, you might be hungry. In studies, low-calorie diets seem to offer the greatest protection against dementia [source: Tan]. If the old adage "you are what you eat" proves true, then in terms of your brain, you may want to be a Mediterranean. The Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on fatty fish, olive oil and vegetables, may help protect against dementia.

You'll also want to reach for foods like broccoli, carrots, grapes, oranges and sweet potatoes. All of those foods are good sources of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that can help protect your brain. While your brain needs oxygen to survive, oxidation also creates the byproduct of oxygen free radicals. These radicals can destroy brain cells, and the first line of defense is an antioxidant. While some antioxidants are present in the brain already, studies have shown that consuming more can lower the risk of dementia. Doctors, however, aren't sure whether consuming antioxidants as a supplement or in the diet is more helpful, as study results are mixed [source: Rabins].

If you normally smoke after a meal, you'll want to stop that as soon as possible. One study showed that current smokers over age 65 were 3.7 times more likely to experience mental decline over a one-year period than people who didn't smoke or who had only smoked in the past [source: Rabins]. You don't, however, have to give up your favorite adult beverages. While binge drinking is linked with a higher risk of dementia, mild to moderate drinking (no more than one drink per day) may provide some protection, as it's believed to improve blood flow [sources: Tan, Judd].

­But if you really want to get drunk on something, get drunk on knowledge. Keep visiting HowStuffWorks and build your cognitive reserve. You can get a start on that by visiting the links below!

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  • Agronin, Marc E. "Dementia: A Practical Guide." Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2004.
  • Bakalar, Nicholas. "Hit the Health Club: Offset Dementia's Onset." New York Times. May 23, 2006. (Sept. 3, 2008)
  • Belluck, Pam. "As Minds Age, What's Next? Brain Calisthenics." New York Times. Dec. 27, 2006. (Sept. 3, 2008)
  • Britt, Robert Roy. "Key to Strong Memory in Old Age: Just Believe." LiveScience. March 8, 2006. (Sept. 3, 2008)
  • Friedman, Richard A. "Forget Something? Then Read This." New York Times. April 10, 2007. (Sept. 3, 2008)
  • Gorman, Christine. "Can You Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?" Time. Jan 8, 2006. (Sept. 3, 2008),9171,1147142,00.html
  • Judd, Sandra J., ed. "Brain Disorders Sourcebook, Second Edition." Health Reference Series. Omnigraphics. 2005.
  • Larson, Christine. "Calisthenics for the Older Mind, on the Home Computer." New York Times. Aug. 26, 2007. (Sept. 3, 2008)
  • Lemonick, Michael D. and Alice Park. "The Nun Study." Time. May 6, 2001. (Sept. 3, 2008),9171,1101010514-108801,00.html
  • "My Generation." Rolling Stone. Dec. 9, 2004. (Sept. 3, 2008)
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  • Rabins, Peter V. "The Johns Hopkins White Papers: Memory." Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2007.
  • Tan, Zaldy S. "Age-Proof Your Mind: Detect, Delay, and Prevent Memory Loss--Before It's Too Late." Warner Books. 2005.
  • Whitehouse, Peter J. and Daniel George. "The Myth of Alzheimer's." St. Martin's Press. 2008.