More than 6 million adults in the U.S. alone suffer from Alzheimer's disease. With so many cases, you may have a family member suffering from this disease. If so, you may be wondering if Alzheimer’s is truly linked to our genetics. And if it is, how much control over your health do you still have?
As we celebrate Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month this June, we’re taking a look at brain health — and the role genetics plays in staying healthy. Read on to learn how you can manage your brain health as you age.
Genetics and predisposition
Family health history is important — that’s why doctors almost always start with learning about your comprehensive family health history. But how much of an impact does family history have on which diseases you are predisposed to?
About 10% of diseases are correlated to our genetics, while our environment (including nutrition, sleep, stress and physical activity) make up the other 90%. It’s important to note however, that family health history can increase your risk for diseases later in life, so it’s important to keep track and be aware of your risk level.
Taking steps for brain health
Clearly, lifestyle choices are an important factor in your overall wellbeing — including your brain health. Don’t let your family health history scare you into believing that you don’t have control. Consider these important ways to manage your health through healthy habits:
- Nutrition. Poor nutrition can open you up to an array of diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and more. These conditions can increase your risk for brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's. Optimize your health by maintaining a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Brain healthy foods also include fish, eggs, coffee, broccoli, blueberries, turmeric, nuts and seeds and more.
- Sleep. Sleep is critical to advancing and maintaining your physical (as well as mental and emotional) health. Studies find that lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can have detrimental effects when it comes to your brain — such as increased clumps in neurons, cognitive decline and build-up. A new study also reports that adults in their 50’s and 60’s with prolonged inadequate sleep are more likely to develop dementia. Take steps to get enough sleep each night. If it becomes increasingly difficult to sleep or get quality rest, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist.
- Exercise. Getting and staying active is a key factor in preventing and controlling your risk level for dementia, Alzheimer's and other diseases. And with climbing obesity (and correlating heart disease) rates, physical activity is more important than ever. Getting enough exercise can be difficult if your job requires a lot of sitting time, so prioritize your activity level and aim to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Breaking it down, this means 30 minutes five days a week.
- Mental Activity. In addition to eating well, getting adequate sleep and staying active, is also critical to keep your mind alert. Challenge your brain through activities such as sudoku, jigsaw puzzles or by learning or practicing a different language or musical instrument. Consider taking a class on an interesting topic from a local community college or continuing education facility. Stay socially engaged and maintain healthy relationships — doing so can help your mind stay active!
The possibility of contracting a serious disease is frightening for anyone — but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. While genetics contribute to a portion of your health risk levels, there are still many aspects within your control. Optimize your health by maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep and staying active -- both physically and mentally.
El Camino Health also offers specialized programs for neurological care. Since June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, take this as a reminder to examine your family health history and establish a plan to lower and better manage your risk level.
This article first appeared in the June 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.