"The key to treating dementia is prevention," says Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent and a practicing neurosurgeon, in his new book Stay Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age. Gupta notes that brain changes that result in dementia have been found to begin 20 to 30 years before a diagnosis, making prevention an urgent and worthy goal. "And it just so happens that the same things you can do to reduce your risk for the disease are what you can do to improve your quality of life as you live with the disease," he adds. These are five ways you can start preventing dementia now and live a better life today. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.
This is the most important thing you can do to keep your brain healthy, says Gupta. "Exercise, both aerobic and nonaerobic (strength training), is not only good for the body; it's even better for the brain," he writes in Keep Sharp. "The connection between physical fitness and brain fitness is clear, direct, and powerful." He recommends regular movement, whether that's taking the stairs instead of the elevator or strenuous exercise. If you exercise regularly, Gupta suggests mixing up your routine.
"Social interaction is one of the big predictors of neurogenesis," or creation of new brain cells, which prevents dementia, said Gupta in the South China Morning Post. "Social interaction is near the top of the list when it comes to making new brain cells. Connecting with others has been known to be important for a long time. But we now know that it leads to the release of certain hormones like oxytocin, which foster neurogenesis."
Get Quality Sleep
"There is a rinse cycle that happens in your brain when you sleep," said Gupta. "You are basically clearing out metabolic waste. That happens when you are awake, but the process is close to 60 percent more efficient when you are asleep. You're clearing out plaque and tangles, and all the things that lead to dementia. You're helping the brain run more smoothly."
How much sleep do you need? "Seven to nine hours, if you can do it," Gupta told Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air." "If you're dreaming in the morning right before you wake up, that's a pretty good sign. That probably means that you've spent a fair amount of your evening, your night, consolidating memories and going through the rinse cycle."
In the book, Gupta says what's "good for the heart is good for the brain" and that "clean living can slash your risk of developing a serious mind-destroying disorder, including Alzheimer's disease, even if you carry genetic risk factors." He advocates a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from natural sources, small portions, little sugar, and plenty of water. Sanjay says he personally eats very little meat and less overall throughout the day—breakfast "like a king," lunch "like a prince" and dinner "like a pauper."
Try New Things
Doing new things is literally exercise for the brain. Gupta recommends reading a book that's outside of your usual interests; taking a class in cooking, art or continuing education; joining a writing group; or learning a new language. And to stay healthy generally, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.