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The link between exercise, diet, and lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s

September 4th, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Jen Azevedo

Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the scariest illnesses known to humankind. It impacts memory function, creating confusion, distress, and mood swings. Alzheimer’s will affect 6.7 million Americans in 2023. 

Although there are medications to help patients' symptoms, unfortunately, there are no known cures for this debilitating and progressive form of dementia. 

Over the last few years, research has begun to explore the role of exercise and diet in lowering the risk of getting Alzheimer’s and improving cognitive function.

September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day, and in honor of this international observance, we will tell you what you can do to optimize your cognitive health and reduce your chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

Why does exercise help to reduce Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)?

IMG-4763Exercise improves heart health, lessens the chance of diabetes, reduces stress, and improves overall mental health and well-being. In the last few years, research has also found that exercise can affect the brain.

  • Maintain hippocampus size

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that transfers information we receive into memory. Those who exercise have less shrinking of the hippocampus than those with Alzheimer’s.

  • Increase your brain synapses

Exercise may fight dementia by increasing the number of synapse connections and improving cell walls. This allows for a better exchange of nutrients and improves vascular health.

  • Eliminate associated diseases
    Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Exercise reduces the chance of developing these diseases. 

  • Care for your cardiovascular health 

Scientists now link good cardiovascular and healthy blood pressure levels to good brain health. 

Researchers in 2018 learned that people with a rare, inherited, and early-onset form of Alzheimer’s who exercised for at least 2.5 hours a week had better cognitive performance and fewer signs of Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t. This crucial 15-year study shows that even people who are at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s can improve their chances of maintaining good cognitive function.

Why does eating a healthy diet help reduce Alzheimer’s?

pexels-horizon-content-3763847 (1)Several factors are being studied regarding the link between diet and brain health. Here is what some of the current research shows.

  • Eat salmon

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon and other fish, may reduce beta-amyloid plaque growth, a type of plaque seen in the brains of people with AD.

  • Moderate salt 

Excess salt intake (chips, french fries, and other processed foods) is associated with increased levels of the protein tau. High levels of tau is seen in people with Alzheimer’s.  

  • Eat your greens

Certain foods, especially leafy greens (kale, chard, collards, mustards, bok choy, and spinach) have neuroprotective nutrients.

  • Minimize dessert

Some scientists now consider Alzheimer’s as a metabolic disease that affects the brain. One important marker is that those with Alzheimer’s have lower glucose metabolism — a condition also associated with diabetes.

  • Eat heart healthy

High blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Therefore eating a heart-healthy diet can also support your brain.

  • Take care of your biome

New research is exploring the role of the gut biome and cognitive function. Although research is in its early stages, it appears that people with Alzheimer’s have different biomes than people without AD. Scientists are pursuing identifying which microbes seem to be most relevant to the development of Alzheimer’s, which will provide important insights into the prevention and treatment of AD. Some foods that support the gut biome are sauerkraut, fermented pickles, yogurt, and kombucha. 

  • Embrace a Mediterranean-style (MIND) diet 

Beta-amyloid deposits are plaques seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Growth may be inhibited when people eat a MIND diet. This diet is also associated with Improved cellular metabolism and a thicker cortical region of the brain — both essential components for a healthy brain.

The MIND diet 

6143108c-2f06-4eba-aec2-bd0e0f0ba636While there are still a lot of unknown factors, there is evidence that a heart-healthy, antioxidant-rich, and low-inflammatory diet lowers the risk of dementia.   

One of the most optimistic studies about nutrition and Alzheimer’s found that after an average of 4.5 years, people who adhered most closely to a Mediterranean-style diet had a 53% reduced rate of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who did not.

The MIND diet is a Mediterranean-inspired approach that emphasizes a minimally processed, high-vegetable diet with very few sweets. People who follow the MIND diet eat as described below:

  • Olive oil - daily
  • Fish - 1 serving per week
  • Nuts - 5 servings per week
  • Wine - Up to 1 glass per day 
  • Beans - 3 servings per week
  • Poultry - 2 servings per week
  • Berries - 2 servings per week
  • Leafy green vegetables - daily
  • Whole grains - 3 servings or more per day
  • Vegetables - 1 or more servings per day (in addition to the leafy greens)

Final thoughts on the link between exercise, diet, and lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s

013acb77-99f8-4d8b-b56a-05025caadfa3Changes in the brain can occur years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer's appear. These early changes suggest that there is a window of opportunity to prevent or delay dementia symptoms. This means we need to take all the steps we can to optimize our health before signs of decline occur. 

In 2020, five specific behaviors were found to help prevent AD. They are:

  1. Not smoking
  2. Physical activity
  3. A high-quality diet
  4. Participate in cognitive activities
  5. Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption

When people adhere to four or all five healthy behaviors, they are found to have a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s

Supporting the end to Alzheimer’s Disease

The Paseo Club is a social club in the Santa Clarita Valley that has supported people in the community in health and wellness for 20 years.

We offer over 60 fitness classes each week, pickleball and tennis courts, and a junior Olympic pool. We also offer spa services, childcare, and nutritional consulting.
View Athletic Calendar

The Paseo Club cares about the SCV and regularly teams up with local charitable organizations. This September 22, the Paseo Club instructors Allison and Jalin will host a Glow Yoga class to raise funds for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The class will be on the stadium court at sunset. 

Bring a mat and some friends, and let's support a great cause together! Participants will receive glow necklaces and bracelets to wear. The suggested donation is $15. The Paseo Club is also creating a team for the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer's on October 7. If you are interested in joining our team, register at act.alz.org/scv

If you have not yet visited the club, come check it out! We offer tours daily. You can see our eight-acre facility and meet staff and members.

Schedule a Tour

Read these three articles to learn more about just a few of our exciting exercise programs.

Jen Azevedo

Jen Azevedo is a tennis professional, pickleball professional, personal trainer, group exercise instructor, and the general manager of the Paseo Club. She loves the community at the Paseo Club and that it is also a safe and fun place for her daughter. Jen’s favorite activities are joining her tribe for trail races or her partners for tennis matches. Occasionally Jen slows down to relax with a book — she reads over 100 a year!