Alzheimer’s disease gradually takes control of a person’s brain, affecting their memory, thought processes and language skills. It’s believed that an abnormal accumulation of proteins penetrate the brain cells, eventually causing death.

Although it’s the most common type of dementia, researchers still aren’t sure what causes Alzheimer’s. Even so, many studies agree that certain lifestyle changes can drastically cut your odds. Here are proven ways you can reduce your risk of contracting this disease.

Determine Your Risk

Before we get into preventative measures, let’s outline some risk factors you cannot change. Advanced age definitely increases your risk of getting Alzheimer’s, which is not a natural part of aging.

Genetics also factor into the odds, as researchers have pinpointed over 20 genes that might contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. 1 Lastly, a person’s gender appears to play a role, since females tend to get diagnosed with the disease more often than men.

In any case, don’t let these inherent risks get you down, because there are many contributing factors you can control.

Be Physically Active

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of physical exercise in combating Alzheimer’s. A consistent exercise routine can help you ward off several of the leading risk factors that result in Alzheimer’s, including high blood pressure and high blood sugar. A healthy weight happens to be a great deterrent to contracting the disease. 2

Poor sleep patterns and mental health afflictions (such as depression and anxiety) can also contribute to Alzheimer’s. Luckily, physical activity can diminish the effects of these factors as well.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that exercise could prevent nearly a third of Alzheimer’s cases. 3 For people aged 65 and older, it’s recommended to schedule 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. Always consult with your doctor before you start a new exercise routine.

Change Your Diet

Researchers have found that what you consume can either elevate or lower your odds of contracting Alzheimer’s.

A Mediterranean diet – which prioritizes fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables – has been shown to slow the disease from developing. On the other hand, fried foods, sugary drinks, and processed meats counteract the benefits of a healthy diet. Studies recommend avoiding these choices, as they can elevate risk factors such as high blood sugar and obesity.

Red meat should also be consumed sparingly, but don’t fret if you can’t live without the occasional steak. Even partially modifying your diet to include a healthier variety of foods can help reduce your risk. According to Dr. Gad Marshall, who is medical director at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment, “even partial adherence to such a diet is better than nothing”. 4

Limit Your Drinks

While there is some evidence that light consumption of alcohol (red wine in particular) might delay various types of dementia, many of those same studies suggest a neurological link between heavy drinking and Alzheimer’s.

Since research findings are fuzzy at best, the safest bet is to limiting how much you drink.

Quit Smoking

The greatest risk to your chances of developing Alzheimer’s could be whether or not you smoke. A review of 37 research studies indicates that current smokers are 30% more likely to develop dementia and 40% more likely to get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 5

While the exact connection between smoking and Alzheimer’s is unknown, there’s no question that medium to heavy smokers have a significantly higher risk of developing the disease than light smokers. The more you smoke, the greater the chances – so butt out!

Stay Connected, Stay Safe

Learning new skills, challenging your brain, and staying social are all known to improve your brain’s overall health. It’s unclear if these activities can ward off Alzheimer’s, but researchers believe that low mental stimulation and social isolation might increase the risks.

The probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease can also spike if you inhale a lot of air pollution or have an accident that results in head trauma. There’s only so much you can do to avoid these dangers, but giving a wide berth to industrial areas and avoiding falls might trim your odds.

Make Gradual Changes

Don’t pressure yourself to address all of these changes at once! The best strategy is to focus on incorporating one healthy change at a time. Whether you choose to get your heart rate up or improve your diet, there’s a variety of tips online to help you succeed.

There is no proven method of preventing dementia, and some risk factors are beyond your control. However, by taking these tips to heart, you can do your part in protecting the long-term health of your brain.