3 Ways to Change Your Lifestyle and Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer's

03/30/2016 08:13 am ET | Updated Mar 30, 2016
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A pill that cures Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Wouldn't that be incredible? Recent articles in both TIME and The New York Times have explored ways our society can try to prevent and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. But scientists still haven't found the 'magic bullet,' a drug that would cure Alzheimer's without any side effects. Most agree that it will likely need to be a combination of medications. In addition, some dementia experts suggest that lifestyle improvements may have an even greater effect than drugs.

Let's not sit around and wait for that pill to cure memory loss. Here are three lifestyle choices we can make right now that may help lower the risk of Alzheimer's:

1. Healthy Eating Habits
It's true that the food and supplements we take into our bodies have an impact on our future health. Even if you take a vitamin C pill every morning, it shouldn't mean you stop eating oranges or doing other things that boost your immune system. Just as we can't solely rely on vitamins and pills to keep us healthy, we also can't expect a single pill to prevent or reverse a disease that has so many complex, contributing factors.

I suggest following a Mediterranean diet that incorporates whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, fish, legumes and nuts, as well as a daily serving of red wine into your daily meals. Some experts believe that a Mediterranean diet could potentially be more effective than existing Alzheimer's drugs. In 2013, a group of leading British health experts wrote an open letter to the UK Health Secretary, where they argued that British officials should focus more resources on encouraging this lifestyle change.

And according to German scientists, incorporating olive oil into your daily meals can help prevent the risk of Alzheimer's. The scientists used the superfood qualities to make a new Alzheimer's medicine because the antioxidants from olives could help to slow down the disease process.

2. Brain Exercise

Research has shown time and time again that when people keep their brain active, whether through continued education, a challenging work activity or social engagement, their memory stays sharper. A study from The New England Journal of Medicine provides strong evidence that higher levels of education may help more people stave off dementia for longer. This may be due to connections between our brain cells, made stronger from education, which can be drawn upon should the possibility of declining memory or thinking occur.

Consider learning a second language, playing a musical instrument or working on crossword puzzles, which can help build more neural pathways. Also think about playing cards or board games with your family, grandchildren or friends. Remember to continue to challenge yourself with more difficult games, crossword puzzles and sheet music because increasing the level of difficulty can increase your cognitive reserve.

I also encourage people to have meaningful experiences with kids. According to the American Society on Aging, cultivating relationships with children increases psychological well-being of older adults. Older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20 percent more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less reliant on canes and performed better on a memory test than their peers. Staying intellectually and socially engaged throughout your adult life will impact your post-retirement life.

3. Regular Physical Activity
Most of us spend the majority of our day sitting down at work, and don't get enough exercise when we get home from the office or on weekends. While daily exercise may seem unrealistic for those with busy schedules or who aren't fitness fans - there is still hope for you! Recent research shows that we can reap the health benefits, including improvements in overall mental, physical and social health, by focusing on moving a little bit more during each day.

Start by taking a daily walk with a friend, or parking your car further away to encourage yourself to walk a few extra steps. Using a fitness device can help you track your steps and can also send an alert when you've been sitting for too long. According to an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.

You can also increase your regular exercise regimen by taking fitness classes such as Zumba and participating in various strength and endurance enhancing programs, like tai chi or chair yoga. Remember, what's good for the heart is good for the brain.

I remain hopeful that researchers will indeed find a cure for memory diseases. But let's not wait for that magic pill. We must do all that we can now to live a brain healthy lifestyle to reduce our risk factors for developing Alzheimer's. Cheers to making good choices!