An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, 5.2 million of them are age 65 or older. The disease will escalate as baby boomers get older, with a projected 13.8 million afflicted by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. As a scientist who works to better understand this and other neurodegenerative disorders, I know the personal toll these incurable diseases take on families.
But there is good news not only in current research for a cure, but also in the fact that Americans can do a lot to prevent or at least slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Before World War II, dementia and Alzheimer’s were less prevalent. Since then, antibiotics and chemotherapy have caused lifespans to increase significantly. But although we are living longer, we also spending much more time sitting compared to our ancestors, as we predominately work at desks. We also are not getting enough exercise, and generally, not eating well.
While aging eventually can lead to Alzheimer’s, studies have proven that exercise and diet, in that order, can potently protect you against developing this devastating disease. Since November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, here are some tips for anyone at any age. The research is conclusive that these simple lifestyle changes have a huge benefit, and that it’s never too late to start:
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week. I think that’s on the low side. Try to take a 15-minute walk after every meal. Park farther away from the store so you have to walk. The good news is that every little bit counts, and even if you’ve been largely sedentary, increasing your exercise will provide immediate benefits that accumulate as you incorporate this into your daily life. Research also shows a variety of activities throughout the day, like gardening, walking, riding bicycles, even house and yard work, are very effective for promoting healthy cognitive aging.