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Diet, Exercise and Brain Exercise – Important Tools for Dementia Prevention

By Dr. Loreen Dawson, BSc, ND


Dementia affects 1 in 8 Canadians over age 65. There is currently no effective drug treatment for dementia, but there are still many things that can be done to reduce your risk, and, if you have early signs of dementia, there are things you can do to slow down progression, and possibly even reverse your situation. Three primary strategies are: diet, exercise and brain exercise.


A basic Mediterranean diet is a good place to start. This consists of lots of vegetables plus legumes, fish, fruits, nuts, seeds and olive oil, with modest to low amounts of meat and dairy products, and minimal sweets, and processed foods. Whole grains are usually part of the Mediterranean diet, however, in the case of dementia, a gluten free diet is recommended.


Avoiding gluten, even in the absence of celiac disease, is thought to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain, and likely reduces your risk of developing dementia. Some studies have shown a lower carbohydrate and a low glycemic index diet may be helpful. Following a low glycemic index diet means avoiding sugar, sweets, processed foods and things made from flour, like most breads, muffins, cookies and other baked goods.


Regular exercise reduces your risk of many common health conditions including dementia. Which type of exercise is best? Start with anything you will actually do. Aim for at least 30 minutes of good physically active every day. Add in exercises shown improve brain function, such as dance and tai chi. Other research has shown that doing regular aerobic exercise in mid-life (ages 45-64) will decrease dementia risk later in life. This can include brisk walking, swimming, aquafit, dance, or any sport that gets your heart rate up. The combination of high intensity exercise and strength training is known to be particularly beneficial for those people who may also have diabetes, prediabetes or cardiovascular disease, and reducing these risks, reduces your dementia risk.


Eating well, and exercising regularly is important, but still not enough to keep your brain healthy. More years of formal education is associated with lower dementia risk, but for optimal brain function you must continue to be an active learner. Learn a new language; a new craft or skill; join a book club, or choir; learn to play a musical instrument or take a course online. The important thing is to keep learning. Continuous learning, eating well and staying fit are 3 great strategies for dementia prevention.


Next week – stress, sleep, hormones, etc – other factors related to dementia risk

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