Dementia is one of the fastest growing health conditions around the world.
This condition, which is known to cause issues with memory and thinking, already affects about 50 million people globally.
In addition, nearly 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year — and the amount of people with dementia is expected to triple in the next 30 years, according to the World Health Organization Trusted Source (WHO).
While we don’t yet have a treatment for dementia, the WHO suggests that a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk of getting cognitive decline and dementia.
On Tuesday, the organization released new guidelines Trusted Source that recommend specific steps people can take to lower their chances of developing the devastating condition.
“The main takeaway here is that there are things people can do to protect their brains from Alzheimer’s and other dementia, and we know this to be true because there is strong scientific support — specifically around physical exercise, blood pressure management, and cognitive stimulation,” Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada, told Healthline.
Here are five healthy habits the WHO recommends adopting now to protect your brain and cut your dementia risk.
A healthy diet has long been known to play a critical role in maintaining our health and preventing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, according to the report. The benefits of eating healthy also extend to brain health.
“We know that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” Sabbagh says.
Among the top recommended diets is the Mediterranean diet.
The WHO recommends loading up on fruit, veggies, fish, nuts, olive oil, and coffee as they’ve all been linked to a lower risk of dementia. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, is known to reduce cognitive impairment.
Because it’s low in saturated fat and packed with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, the diet has a major protective component, says Sabbagh.
Research has found that regular exercise can do wonders for our brain. In fact, a 2009 study Trusted Sourcefound that people who worked out on regular basis were far less likely to develop cognitive decline and dementia compared to those who led a sedentary life.
The big question is: how much exercise should we be doing? Sabbagh recommends aiming for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (think jogging, biking, or even walking).
“The key here is consistency. You have to take it like it’s medicine. Start slow and build up,” Sabbagh advised.
Thanks to research Trusted Source, we already know that smoking boosts your risk of dementia — particularly in people who are 65 years and older. The WHO’s recommendations are simple and clear: don’t smoke tobacco.
When it comes to drinking, the occasional glass of wine or beer likely won’t do you much harm. In fact, light to moderate alcohol use may actually lower your risk of dementia, according to the report.
The WHO does, however, warn against harmful, excessive alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol can contribute to the onset of dementia, research Trusted Source has found.
When it comes to taking vitamins and dietary supplements for brain health, the WHO essentially says, don’t bother. There simply isn’t enough research to back up the claims that vitamin B or E pills do anything in terms of preventing dementia.
“The bottom line is that [supplements] have lousy science and haven’t held up to the standard we expect drugs to hold up to,” Sabbagh said.
The evidence here is less clear, but in general, social isolation is a major driver of depression and anxiety in older adults. Furthermore, social withdrawal and loneliness is thought to speed up the path toward cognitive impairment, the WHO claimed.
Maintaining a social network later in life can be tough, but it may very well help fend off cognitive decline and dementia in older adults.
“Developing and/or maintaining a social support network can help improve your mood, which can then lead to improved self-care and better overall health,” Dr. David A. Merrill, a neurologist and geriatric psychiatrist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, said.
All in all, these recommendations are a very important contribution to your overall health, experts believe.
It’s never too early — or too late — to start practicing these healthy lifestyle habits.
“Today’s the day to start a new habit, take that first step to stave off dementia,” Merrill noted. “Your brain will thank you for it!”