Some of us grow old gracefully; others fight it every step of the way. Either way, as we move towards the excitement of retirement and the chance to spend more time on the road, we also have to recognize that growing older often comes with its own set of health issues with which we may have to contend. We can reduce our sodium intake to manage our blood pressure, eat less meat to lower our heart disease risk and limit our consumption of dairy products to combat high cholesterol, but it is not just our physical health that should be of concern.
No one wants to face the fact that dementia could be in his or her future, but those of us with family members with Alzheimer’s disease or friends who are beginning to show signs of cognitive decline know that this is a very real possibility. While there is not much we can do about any hereditary component that may be present, clinical research strongly supports the notion that we can take our future mental health into our own hands by making lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce our risk of dementia as we age.
Studies have linked obesity to higher incidences of dementia, which suggests that weight management should be at the top of the list for dementia prevention. This is particularly true in light of the findings of a Swedish study published in Neurology. This study found that people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher have a 288 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia when compared to people at average weights. The study also found that those with a BMI of 25 to 30 have a 71 percent higher chance of developing dementia. There are plenty of reasons to manage our weight and work to maintain a healthy BMI, but knowing that both our mental and physical health may depend on this shows just how important weight management is to our overall wellness.
Part of maintaining a healthy weight is getting regular exercise, which has also been linked to better mental health as we age. Studies, such as one conducted at the University of Pittsburgh using 120 participants over the age of 60, show that staying active appears to improve memory and help to ward off cognitive decline. This means you might want to commit to taking more morning hikes or exploring more flea markets while you are on the road.
Finally, an active social life might be just what the doctor ordered. Making new friends while you travel across the country is one of the joys of RVing, and it turns out that it can also help you lower your risk of developing dementia. A 2008 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Duke University is just one of many linking a lower dementia risk to engaging in mentally and socially engaging activities.
Staying active, watching your weight and staying connected to friends are three things you can do to lower your dementia risk, keep your mind sharp and make sure you can enjoy many more road trips as you move into your senior years.