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Risks of dementia and type 2 diabetes: 7 healthy habits

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Experts say there are simple lifestyle habits people with type 2 diabetes can follow to reduce their risk of developing dementia. Fertnig/Getty Images
  • A new study lists 7 healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of dementia for people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Among the recommendations are adequate sleep, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption.
  • Experts say sleep is one of the most important things because it allows the brain to clean itself of plaque as well as reduce hunger cravings.

People with type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk of dementia with seven healthy habits.

This is according to a new study published in NeurologyMedical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers investigated data from the UK Biobank to determine whether or not the known increased risk of dementia in people with type 2 diabetes could be compensated for by a combination of common healthy lifestyle factors.

The researchers used data from 167,946 participants aged 60 or older without dementia at the start of the research. At a follow-up about 12 years later, 4,351 participants developed all-cause dementia.

The researchers reported that participants who engaged in a wide range of healthy lifestyle factors showed a lower 10-year risk of developing dementia (from about 5% to less than 2%).

The study authors wrote that their research shows why behavioral lifestyle modifications through different approaches should be a priority for preventing and delaying the onset of dementia in people with type 2 diabetes.

Seven healthy lifestyle habitsthey were:

1. No smoking present

2. Moderate alcohol consumption is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men

3. Regular weekly physical activity of at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise

4. Seven to nine hours of sleep a day

5. Eat a healthy diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, less refined grains, and processed and unprocessed meats

6. Lack of movement

7. Excessive social contact

Dr. Aqua Boateng, MD, a psychiatrist in Philadelphia, says that while research recognizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle and sleep to longevity and vitality, many people have struggled to maintain a lifestyle that supports this level of health.

“There are many factors such as where you grew up and your family’s genotypes that increase your likelihood of developing diabetes and/or dementia,” she told Healthline.

“At the heart of health is our ability to move toward what is corrective and transformative,” said Boateng. “Our sense of meaning, through emotional discovery, has the power to give us a reason to change what’s comfortable, rewrite healthy precursors, and change the course of our lives.”

“Your mental health is key to achieving holistic wellness,” she added.

So rather than offering advice on how to incorporate each of these seven healthy lifestyle habits, Boateng encourages people to make some changes she says can help ensure that these seven habits are incorporated into their lives.

How to make permanent lifestyle changes

  • Cultivating a sense of purpose or meaning in life. “It gives you a reason to wake up and work toward a better future,” Boateng says.
  • go to treatment. “Investing in being aware of your patterns and the reasons behind these tendencies helps you learn how to change them.”
  • Choose your motivational clan. “Join a gym, a walking group, an entrepreneur group, etc. This kind of community will help motivate you in the moments when you don’t feel motivated.” This works to stop smoking, eat more fresh foods, or exercise more regularly, Boateng noted.
  • Put small goals into bigger goals to achieve. Walking, talking to a mentor each week, and drinking water instead of smoking can all be goals within larger goals like losing weight or quitting smoking, says Boateng.
  • Reward yourself. “We all love being rewarded for good work. Creating an internal reward system can be the best way to continue progressing toward your goals,” says Boateng.
  • Practice self-compassion. Being kind to yourself has both physical and emotional benefits that fight disease and improve our relationships. Be gentle with yourself.

According to the American Psychological Association, lack of sleep makes any mental health condition more challenging and can also increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and depression.

Experts say that sleep health, then, is the pillar on which all of the other healthy lifestyle habits mentioned above originated. Without adequate sleep, achieving other health milestones is more difficult because you are not thinking with a well rested mind.

Dr. Shelby Harris is a clinical psychologist and board certified in behavioral sleep medicine by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. She is also the director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis.

Harris explains why it is important to get the 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night recommended for people with type 2 diabetes.

“Lack of sleep and/or lack of sleep makes you more insulin resistant,” Harris told Healthline. “You also have more signals of hunger and satiety, while also craving more fatty and sugary foods for quick energy.”

This can make maintaining healthy blood sugar levels with type 2 diabetes more difficult.

When it comes to sleep and dementia, Harris explains that during your deep sleep, your brain essentially acts as a dishwasher, washing away waste like plaques and protein clumps that build up from waking up during the day.

Without enough sleep, she explained, your brain doesn’t do this cleansing process, and plaque can build up.

Often found in people with Alzheimer’s disease, Harris added, plaque buildup is a risk factor for dementia.

“If you struggle to make time to fall asleep, but don’t have any issues with actual sleep when you go to bed, try working to increase your total sleep time by 30 to 60 minutes once a week,” Harris suggested.

“Then once that’s better, move to a couple of days a week and so on,” she says. “Another way to do this is to aim for maybe 10 minutes before bedtime every night for a week, then once that’s better, move it up to 15 minutes earlier each night.”

She also suggests trying to figure out why you don’t make time for bed.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is it procrastination in certain tasks?
  • Do you finally have time to yourself?
  • Why do you need to sleep more?

Additional tips to get more sleep

Harris suggests using timers to help remind you that it’s time to relax to sleep at a specific time each night and write “why” on the timer when your phone rings.

“Also, select Autoplay on streaming media apps. That way it doesn’t go from one show to another and you need to make a conscious decision to watch another show versus automatically go to another.”

“Finally, if you struggle with sleep and insomnia, make sure your sleep is healthy,” Harris added.

This means limiting alcohol intake in the 3 hours before bed, limiting caffeine in the 8 hours before bed, and limiting screens 30 to 60 minutes before bed.

“If this isn’t enough and you’re still struggling with the amount and quality of sleep, talk to a sleep specialist, as there are many effective non-drug treatments and medications,” Harris says.