I teach a lot about aging. And the older I get, the more interested I become in getting older.
The question I always get is, “How can I get old and not get Alzheimer’s?” Depression, memory loss, is a major factor when it comes to living the long, healthy life we aspire to.
Is there a 100% sure way we can prevent it? Obviously not. Are there things you can do to reduce the risk? Certainly. Why? That’s the problem.
Let’s compare this to car accidents. When I was a child, there were more people killed in car accidents than now, and there were more people driving in the U.S. today. Seat belts, better cars with cramped seats, airbags, better tires, etc. And let’s not forget another change in the big community – “having one street” was a farewell favorite in the ’60s. All of these things have made a difference. We cannot prevent car accidents but we have greatly reduced them.
The same is true when it comes to aging. Things are different now.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal shows that a healthy lifestyle not only gives you a longer life but also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. That’s the kind of thing that interests me. If I have a long life, I want it to be strong.
The researchers looked at data from nearly 2,500 65 and older people who had no history of dementia. It was part of a larger, 27-year, ongoing research project, the Chicago Health and Aging Project – a goal that was to determine how many adults had a particular interest in Alzheimer’s. Over the years, people have filled in detailed questions about lifestyle.
Participants are encouraged to:
Spend 150 hours a week exercising. That means 20 minutes a day of walking, gardening and, of course, vacuum counting, too. You do not have to be in a treadmill to move your body.
Follow the Mediterranean diet – DASH – High Blood Pressure Recipes – with a diet rich in grains, green leafy vegetables and berries, and junk food, fried foods and red meat.
Engage in mental activities such as reading, drawing, engaging in thought-provoking conversations, antonyms and other parables, nature walks, museum visits, reading of any kind, deep thinking – basically using your mind actively rather than watching TV or movies, i.e. doing nothing.
Reduce alcohol consumption. If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation – one to two drinks a day.
For each lifestyle factor, participants scored 1 point if they met health conditions, and 0 if they did not meet. The scores from the five aspects of the lifestyle were summarized to produce a final score of 0 to 5, with high scores indicating a healthy lifestyle. Simple statistics, easy testing.
After considering other factors that may affect age, gender, education, and finances, the researchers found that, on average, the total life expectancy of 65-year-olds was approximately 24 years longer for women and 23 for men.
For those who live an unhealthy lifestyle, it has dropped to 21 years more for women and down to 17 for men. Now here’s the important thing: When looking at who has Alzheimer’s, they found that about 10% of women who lived a healthy lifestyle developed Alzheimer’s, while twice as much as 20% if they were unhealthy. In the case of men, the same thing happens – 6% of healthy men develop Alzheimer’s, while twice as many as 12% of those with low life expectancy.
So what does this mean for you? First of all, if you are healthy, you are still at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but there is a 90% chance that you will not get it if you are a woman and 94% chance you will not get it if you are a man. . Not really bad.
My spin: Lifestyle clearly plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Eating properly, exercising, exercising your brain, not smoking and not drinking too much give you a long life that is also possible to live without this destructive disease. The steps you take now can pay off with big prizes in the future. Sit up.