Aging is never easy. But the prospect of failing to recognize friends and loved ones is awful. The bad news is that Alzheimer’s is currently affecting the lives of as many as five million Americans, but the good news is that this disease is increasingly preventable—and the prevention strategies can be truly pleasurable.

So what plan can we put in place to prevent Alzheimer’s? Surprisingly, one of the best ways to help your brain is to take care of your ticker. “The same culprits behind cardiovascular disease are responsible for Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Dr. Salvatore Lacagnina, VP of Health & Wellness at the Lee Memorial Health System, tells us. “Exercise, which we all know is great for our hearts, has also been shown in many studies to improve endothelial function” (That’s improving the way the inside lining of the arteries work, in layman’s terms).
Dr. Lacagnina explains, “When your arteries can expand and contract in a healthy way, this brings oxygen to all of the cells in your body, including those in your brain. So the way we approach Alzheimer’s disease should be the same way we approach cardiovascular disease. It’s a great idea to exercise for at least thirty minutes a day, if you can.”

What you’re feeding your body’s most important organ is pretty critical, too. According to Dr. Barry Mannen, a diet low in trans and saturated fats is a great start (the rest of your body will thank you, too). “Further,” Dr. Mannen explains, “try to eat as much grass-fed beef as possible since their meat has less saturated fat than grain-fed.”

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Still feeling peckish? Dr. Mannen recommends snacking on “berries, nuts, and seeds” for their high levels of Vitamin E. Studies show that Vitamin E may help prevent Alzheimer’s, but it must be consumed naturally—you won’t absorb the E correctly by just gobbling vitamins. A bit too Paleo for you? Not to worry: there are variations to fit your fancy.

Dr. Ellen Albertson, founder of Smash Your Scale, agrees with much of Dr. Mannen’s advice. She tells us, “If you want to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and avoid simple carbohydrates and saturated fats.” It turns out what’s good for your heart is good for your head as well (eating well and working out are good for both the brain and body). Dr. Albertson also recommends that we load up on olive oil, vegetables, and Omega-3 fatty acids (think Atlantic salmon and Bluefin tuna).

Already delicious, but her tips just get better: “While there is less evidence of their benefits, foods high in flavonoids (i.e. cocoa, red wine, and tea) and caffeine may reduce risk.” So…now we have an excuse for that glass of wine and chunk of dark chocolate? We’re game.

Being fit doesn’t end with Dr. Lacagnina’s gym tips, however. Dr. Mannen suggests that we “engage in mental activities that exercise brain power, including crossword puzzles, playing cards, reading, and playing Scrabble.”  Let’s hope that Words With Friends counts as a way to prevent Alzheimer’s too (yes, we are still playing; no we are not proud of this).

So the upshot here? Alzeimer’s is terrible. But staving it off by living an active and healthy life, eating well, and enjoying ourselves? We can handle that.

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