It’s no secret that healthy lifestyle choices greatly lower your risk of dementia. But, says Aaron Ritter, M.D. the Larkin Family Endowed Chair in Integrative Brain Health and the director of the Memory & Cognitive Disorders Program at Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, most people don’t think about the connection between diet, exercise and dementia in reverse.
Most people don’t. But Thor does.
The actor Chris Hemsworth, who plays Marvel’s immortal God of Thunder has been reflecting on his own mortality and longevity since famously learning that he carries two copies of a gene that increases his risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, he is making choices to live well.
“If I didn’t know this [Alzheimer’s] information, I wouldn’t have made the changes I made,” Hemsworth said in an interview with Vanity Fair. “I just wasn’t aware of any of it, so now I feel thankful that I have in my arsenal the sort of tools to best prepare myself and prevent things happening in that way.”
The movie star has the right attitude, Dr. Ritter said.
“Making healthy choices isn’t just about staving off disease, it’s about living well,” Dr. Ritter said. “The reasons why a person can develop dementia are still unknown, but we know that the way we treat our brains and our bodies during the entire course of our lives has a tremendous impact on our total health as we get older.”
Want to blow out the candles on every birthday cake with vim and vigor? Dr. Ritter offers a few secrets to healthy longevity:
Get Hydrated. You probably know that drinking eight glasses of water a day can help you maintain proper weight and keep your body healthy. But did you know staying hydrated helps your brain, too? “Just like your heart, your brain is about 73% water. When it is dehydrated, it has to work harder to perform cognitive tasks,” Dr. Ritter said. In fact, in one large study, just 3 pounds of fluid loss in a 150-pound person was associated with significant attention, executive function and motor skills impairment. So, drink up!
Get a Little Sunshine. Vitamin D, which the sun doles out generously, can also be found naturally in some foods, such as fish, and in fortified foods, such as milk. It helps your body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, keeping our bones healthy as we age. It also helps reduce cancer cell growth, control infections and reduce inflammation. “Studies have also found that vitamin D deficiency doubles a person’s risk of developing dementia,” Dr. Ritter said. It’s good for your body, your mind, your mood and your overall health. Best of all, it’s free!
Get Social. The health effects of loneliness and social isolation have been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Picking up the phone, going for a walk with a friend or joining an activity group stimulates the mind, as well as the body. “Most research suggests that the time and effort a person puts into an activity are the most important factors in keeping their brain sharp,” Dr. Ritter said. “What’s most important is that you’re challenged and you’re learning. It’s the only way to exercise your brain to grow new neuropathways as well as support the old ones.”
Get Disciplined. There is simply no replacement for healthy living – certainly known that you’ll find in a bottle.
“There is simply no magic pill for keeping our brains healthy,” Dr. Ritter said. “When we study supplements in rigorous studies, they all fall flat. On the other hand, research shows that a disciplined and proactive approach to living a brain healthy lifestyle actually does pan out in significantly reducing the risk for dementia. Eat healthy (cut out processed sugar), exercise daily, keep the brain stimulated and sleep well. It really does work.”
To keep track of your health and to get custom-tailored advice that will keep you healthy as you age, see your primary care physician regularly. To schedule an appointment today, go to www.hoaghealth.org.