There’s no surefire way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 8.8 percent of people over age 65. Still, we’re beginning to understand more about the habits that are associated with a decreased risk of developing the disease, and recent research has suggested that half of all Alzheimer’s cases could potentially be prevented with lifestyle changes, such as controlling high blood pressure, quitting smoking, and exercising.

Proving a conclusive link between certain habits and Alzheimer’s is complicated, and the research can be conflicting. But there’s no downside to adjusting your lifestyle to incorporate more of these healthy habits. In recognition of Brain Awareness Week, Consumer Reports highlights what you can do to possibly lower your risk of getting this devastating disease.  

5 Brain-Healthy Habits

Feed your mind. The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a hybrid of two popular heart-healthy eating plans and emphasizes foods that have been shown in rigorous studies to be good for the brain. It includes plentiful vegetables (especially leafy greens), berries, nuts, whole grains, beans, olive oil, seafood, and poultry. In a study of almost 1,000 people, those whose natural eating habits matched the MIND Diet had a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Get your z’s.  People with Alzheimer’s have a buildup of a compound in the brain called beta-amyloid, which forms plaques that interrupt signaling between neurons. Sleep might help regulate levels of beta-amyloid and keep it from accumulating. “We don’t know for sure exactly how sleep and Alzheimer’s are related, but there is a lot of evidence suggesting that a lack of sleep increases risk of the disease,” says sleep medicine researcher Brendan Lucey, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

He recommends getting 7 to 8 hours per night and getting any sleep problems—such as sleep apnea or insomnia—treated as soon as possible with the help of a sleep medicine specialist.

Keep your brain active. "Brain training" is a popular term for various programs that claim to help improve memory or other aspects of brain health. Though these programs can boost specific abilities related to the task you’re performing, the research is still inconclusive that they can make a difference in daily living, according to a recent review of 31 studies that was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The alternative? “I tell people to read and discuss books, learn to speak a new language or to play an instrument, take adult education classes, and stay socially engaged,” says neuroscientist Arthur Kramer, Ph.D., senior vice provost for research and graduate education at Northeastern University in Boston. “Studies have shown that being socially and mentally engaged may play a protective role in brain health.” 

Keep your body moving. A fifth of Alzheimer’s cases in the U.S. could be attributed to physical inactivity, a study in Lancet Neurology suggested. Another review of the research, published in BMC Geriatrics, found that people who were more physically active were 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who were inactive.

The important thing is to move. Exercise seems to have significant benefits even for people at high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s, Kramer says. He recommends following the Institute of Medicine’s physical activity guidelines: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week. That can mean regular walking, cycling, or swimming. (Seventy-five minutes of vigorous activity works, too.)

Protect your heart.  Experts have said for years that what affects the heart can affect the brain, which makes sense: Your brain relies on blood and oxygen from the heart. In fact, a 25-year Finnish study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that those who had heart disease, especially heart failure or atrial fibrillation, also had a higher risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.

Other studies have shown a link between unhealthy cholesterol levels and hypertension and the risk of developing Alzheimer's. The more you can improve your heart health—through exercise, diet, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol—the healthier your brain might be. And there's a bonus: Keeping your heart healthy will also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, which is still the leading cause of death in the U.S.