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Answer

Yes, you likely can reduce your risk of acquiring brain disease. Note that certain diseases of the brain are related to clearly avoidable causes, such as head injuries and recreational drug use. Avoiding these dangers will certainly reduce your risk. Furthermore, a 2015 study in Finland showed that a 2-year-long intervention on the elderly that included a special diet, prescribed exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring significantly reduced the loss of a variety of cognitive functions.1 Studies like this show that your chance of developing brain disease can go down with a few behavioral modifications. 

On the other hand, you can’t alter genetically inherited traits that may lead to brain disease later in life. Moreover, science is continually evolving and can’t tell you everything you need to know to be perfectly healthy.

What Can Be Done

Research on the causes and prevention of brain diseases is ongoing, but based on what we currently know, we can make the following recommendations: 

First, take care of your physical health. Inadequate nutrition and exercise can absolutely negatively impact your cognitive functions. A simple way to improve one’s diet is to switch from white flour to whole grains. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into every meal is another positive step. Please see the World Health Organization’s Nutrition Guidelines for more insights into what you can do to improve your diet. The U.S. Center for Disease Control has a variety of helpful resources for those wanting to engage in an exercise program:

Second, seek to improve your relationships. Every human being has a fundamental need to belong.2 Research has shown that meaningful human interaction can reduce the risk of brain disease.3 We suggest volunteering in your community, reconnecting with old friends, inviting someone to dinner, and patching up any damaged relationships with family members.

Third, stay active and have a purpose. There is some research showing that physical inactivity can lead to negative effects on the brain.4 We recommend working or volunteering if you are able — even if you don’t financially need to. Fill your life with activity and meaning. Have something to look forward to each day.

Read more information about the prevention of Alzheimer's and other brain diseases at alz.org: 10 Ways to Love Your Brain.

Notes

  1. Ngandu, Tiia, Jenni Lehtisalo, Alina Solomon, Esko Levälahti, Satu Ahtiluoto, Riitta Antikainen, Lars Bäckman et al. “A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial.” The Lancet 385, no. 9984 (2015): 2255-2263.
  2. Leary, Mark R., and Roy F. Baumeister. “The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation.” In Interpersonal Development, pp. 57-89. Routledge, 2017.
  3. Hikichi, Hiroyuki, Katsunori Kondo, Tokunori Takeda, and Ichiro Kawachi. “Social interaction and cognitive decline: Results of a 7-year community intervention.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions 3, no. 1 (2017): 23-32.
  4. Siddarth, Prabha, Alison C. Burggren, Harris A. Eyre, Gary W. Small, and David A. Merrill. “Sedentary behavior associated with reduced medial temporal lobe thickness in middle-aged and older adults.” PloS one 13, no. 4 (2018): e0195549.

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