3 Steps to Take Now to Prevent Dementia
Cerebral cardio: "If you want to reduce amyloid plaques in your brain, work out on a regular basis," says Isaacson. Aerobic exercise is associated with increased gray matter volume in the brain's cortex, where memory networks are housed, says J. Carson Smith, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Physical activity can also help protect the hippocampus, another part of the brain essential to memory, from disease-related shrinkage. (This effect was found to be greater in people with the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's.) It stimulates the birth and growth of nerve cells in the area, increases vessel formation so blood can nourish these cells, and boosts levels of brain growth factors. According to Smith's research, you'll likely get the biggest benefit if you constantly push yourself to go faster.
Mental toning: High-intensity strength training two or three days per week for six months improved brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment, according to 2016 Australian research—and the results likely apply to healthy younger adults, too, say study authors. One theory is that the same hormonal responses that help you build muscle may also help your brain grow new cells.
Mind-expanding yoga: An effective stress buster, yoga may help the brain in several ways, explains Helen Lavretsky, MD, professor in residence in the psychiatry department at UCLA. Stress hormones like cortisol are associated with decreased hippocampus volume, impairing memory; stress-induced inflammation is linked to neuronal damage. In a pilot study by Lavretsky, people older than 55 who participated in a weekly hour-long yoga session (plus 12 minutes of daily meditation) for 12 weeks reduced their stress levels and saw an improvement in verbal memory comparable to those who did only memory training. The effect would likely be seen in younger adults also, she says.