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Doing This Every Day Raises Your Dementia Risk

Changing certain lifestyle habits can lower your chances of developing the disease.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Dementia—a degenerative brain disorder that generally affects older people—is a serious and growing health challenge. According to research published in Lancet Public Health last January, the number of people with dementia will rise to nearly 153 million by the year 2050, an increase of almost 200%. The #1 risk of dementia is advanced age, but it is not inevitable. Changing certain lifestyle habits can lower your chances of developing the disease. Here's what experts say you might be doing every day that raise your dementia risk. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Not Getting Enough Sleep

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"Sleep is crucial to removing the byproducts which build up in your brain during the day, higher levels of which are associated with Alzheimer's," says Ellie Busby, a registered nutritionist who specializes in genetics associated with Alzheimer's disease.

According to Alzheimer's Clinics UK, a 2021 study by Inserm and University College London examined how sleep patterns earlier in life may affect the onset of dementia decades later. The researchers followed 8,000 50-year-olds as they aged, and they found that those who averaged six hours of sleep or less each night had a 30% higher chance of developing Alzheimer's, compared to people who got seven hours or more.

2

Not Exercising

Tired senior hispanic man sleeping on dark blue couch, taking afternoon nap at the living room
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"Not exercising can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's and dementia," says exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham, PhD. "Research as far back as 2012 showed that a higher level of total daily physical activity was associated with a lower risk and subsequent development of Alzheimer's. Daily exercise helps promote brain plasticity and memory improvement. It also increases blood flow to the brain, and the chemicals that are released during physical activity appear to aid in the reduction of Alzheimer's risk." It doesn't take a lot of exercise to make a difference. "As little as 10 minutes of aerobic physical activity—like walking or cycling—three to four times per week has been shown to have both physical and mental health benefits," he says. "Thirty minutes a day will have an even larger impact."

3

Constantly Stressing Out

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A 2021 study found that repeated exposure to stress was a significant factor in a person's likelihood of developing Alzheimer's later in life, says Alzheimer's Clinics UK. Researchers think that's due to the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, an area of the brain involved in stress responses. When this axis is repeatedly activated, it creates neurotoxins that can actually cause the brain to degenerate.

4

Eating Too Much Saturated Fat and Not Enough Healthy Fats

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"Healthy fats are a much better fuel source than unhealthy fats, and we see in the research that a high-fat diet low in simple carbohydrates improves cognition," says Busby. "Omega-3 is especially important, as DHA has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. On the flip side, saturated fat should be avoided. Reduce red meat and dairy products, and replace them with healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil."

RELATED: Habits Secretly Increasing Your Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Say Physicians

5

Not Being Mentally and Socially Active

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Research suggests that people who stay mentally and socially active throughout their lives are less likely to develop Alzheiemer's. Reading, learning a foreign language, playing a musical instrument and being part of a social community ensure the brain is actively being used. That keeps it healthier over time, says Alzheimer's Clinics UK.

6

Consuming Too Much Sodium

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"Getting carried away with the salt shaker and consuming frequent packaged or processed foods could contribute to hypertension, or high blood pressure," says Molly Robinson MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian who specializes in senior nutrition. "Over time, uncontrolled hypertension can damage small blood vessels in the brain, which can have an effect on thinking and memory." She recommends following the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).

RELATED: Doing This After Age 60 is "Unhealthy," Say Physicians

7

Not Controlling Diabetes or Your Blood Sugar Levels

Senior woman checking her blood glucose level.
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"Blood vessels and nerves can sustain damage from diabetes and high blood sugar levels," says Robinson. "This damage not only raises the risk for dementia, but also heart disease and stroke."  

8

Drinking Too Much Alcohol

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"Drinking alcohol, such as red wine, in moderation can have benefits," says Robinson. "Excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure, leading to stroke, which can increase the risk of dementia."

And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael