By Sarah Johnson CFP®, MS, RD
Take a moment and picture what you believe your retirement years will look like. For most, the idea of retirement brings up images of travel, relaxation, and meaningful time with family and friends. We all know that in order to achieve our retirement dreams, we must save money in our early years. We are given very specific advice on how to reach these goals: Max out your 401k, save 10%-15% of your salary annually, contribute to an IRA, etc. However, if you are working hard to save enough money to fund your retirement dreams, let’s make sure to also make a plan for how you will get there in a healthy body that can enjoy this life you dream of.
Alzheimer’s is now the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA. While it is true that there is a strong genetic component to developing Alzheimer’s, our future is not written in stone. Environment plays a significant role. Experts agree that the development of Alzheimer’s is a combination of age, genetics, environment, and lifestyle. While we cannot change our age or genetics, we can make changes to the other risk factors. Most of the research showing the rapid growth of Alzheimer’s disease is based off of those living an “American Diet lifestyle”. Change your lifestyle, change your outcome.
It is well researched that what we eat affects our chances of developing Alzheimer’s and/or other memory issues as we age. The problem however, is that there are so many different recommendations out there, and many of these diets that claim to help have so many rules it can be difficult to know where to begin. But here is the good news: there are a few common threads and simple steps you can take to make a significant impact on your brain health.
Diet has a powerful effect on brain health. Most diets fail as they force us to focus on what we can’t have. Instead, try focusing on what you can have. Put good in, get good out.
Top Powerful Brain Foods
- Blueberries!!! (organic when possible): Aim for minimum of 2x/wk
- Fish- Powerful Omega 3’s. Aim for 1x/week
- Nuts & Seeds: Healthy fat & antioxidants: Aim for 5x/wk
- Leafy Greens & Other Vegetables: Packed with vitamins. Aim for 6x. wk
- Beans: High in fiber & protein, aim for 2x/wk
And here is one more suggestion you may like. It has been shown that one glass of red wine/day helps reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s (and no, more is not better, sorry).
While food will give you the most bang for your buck, if you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s, find an MD or Registered Dietitian who can discuss supplements with you. CoQ10, Omega 3’s, and ALA can be helpful. Talk to your health provider about what amount, if any, of these you should be taking.
Vitamin D is worth looking at even if you do not have a family history of memory issues. Low vitamin D as we age is associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline, and those with even mild vitamin D deficiency had a 53% increased risk of developing dementia. Those with severe deficiency had a 123% increased risk. Particularly those living in northern states where we get less sunshine should have their vitamin D levels tested.
While diet will always have the biggest impact on your brain health, we have all heard the phrase “Use it or lose it”. Recent research shows that this is very true come retirement. Retirees who are not using their brains for complicated tasks, can have up to a 40% faster decline in short term memory. Here are some things you can do in addition to healthy eating, to help keep your brain sharp.
Top Brain activities to help avoid Alzheimer’s
- Interact with people-Regular, meaningful interactions with others is great protection for the brain.
- Volunteering is a wonderful option to boost your brain and your spirit.
- Crossword puzzles– if you prefer online, check out one of the many brain games apps.
- Turn off the TV and pick up a book- Reading calms nerves and stimulates the brain keeping you mentally alert; television has the opposite effect.
- Surround yourself with youth– play with children- doing so helps get you moving and using your creative skills.
- Exercise- Exercise benefits brain cells by increasing blood flow to the brain. Also, high blood sugar is connected to some forms of Alzheimer’s. Exercise helps keep your sugars in check, and sharpens short term memory.
- Take up gardening- being outside, touching the earth which is filled with probiotics, and the satisfaction of seeing something grow is a perfect combination for overall health.