Dementia Risk and Type 2 Diabetes: 7 Healthy Habits

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Experts say there are simple lifestyle habits people with type 2 diabetes can take to lower their dementia risk. Fertnig/Getty Images
  • A new study lists 7 healthy lifestyle habits to lower the dementia risk 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 as it allows the brain to cleanse itself of plaque as well as reducing hunger cravings.

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

That’s according to a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers investigated data from the UK Biobank to determine whether or not the known increased risk of dementia in people with type 2 diabetes can be offset or counteracted by a combination of common healthy lifestyle factors.

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

The researchers reported that participants who engaged in a broad range of healthy lifestyle factors demonstrated significantly less risk of developing dementia within 10 years (from about 5% to less than 2%).

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

The seven healthy lifestyle habitswere:

1. No current smoking

2. Moderate alcohol consumption of up to one drink a day for women and up to two a 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 daily

5. A healthy diet that included more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish and fewer refined grains, processed and unprocessed meats

6. Being less sedentary

7. Frequent social contact

Akua Boateng, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Philadelphia, says that while research recognizes the significance of having a healthy sleep and lifestyle pattern on longevity and vitality, many people have struggled to maintain the lifestyle that supports this level of health.

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

“At the center of health is our ability to move toward what is corrective and transformational,” Boateng said. “Our sense of meaning, via emotional discovery, has the power to give us reason to change what is comfortable, rewrite health precursors, and change the trajectory of our lives.”

“Your mental health is core in achieving holistic wellness,” she added.

So rather than give advice on how to incorporate each of these seven healthy lifestyle habits, Boateng encourages people to make a few changes that she says can help to ensure these seven habits are more integrated into their life.

How to make lasting 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,” says Boateng.
  • Going to therapy. “Investing in becoming aware of your patterns and reasons behind these tendencies helps you learn how to change them.”
  • Pick your motivational tribe. “Join a gym, walking group, female entrepreneur collective, etc. This form of community will help push you in moments when you do not feel motivated.” This works for quitting smoking, eating more fresh foods, or exercising more regularly, Boateng noted.
  • Set small goals within larger objectives to accomplish. Boateng says walking, talking to a mentor weekly, and drinking water instead of smoking, can all be goals within larger goals such as losing weight or quitting smoking.
  • Reward yourself. “We all love to get rewards for a job well done. Creating an internal system of reward can be the best way to keep moving toward your goals,” says Boateng.
  • Practice self-compassion. Being kind to yourself has physical and emotional benefits that fight against disease and improves our relationships. Be kind to yourself.

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

Sleep health, then, is a pillar on which all the other aforementioned healthy lifestyle habits originate, experts say. Without adequate sleep, achieving other health milestones is more difficult because you’re not thinking with a well-rested brain.

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 getting those recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is so important for people with type 2 diabetes.

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

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

When it comes to sleep and dementia, Harris explains that while you are in deep sleep, your brain essentially works as a dishwasher, washing away the waste products such as plaques and clusters of protein that build up from being awake during the day.

Without adequate sleep, your brain doesn’t do this cleansing process, and a buildup of plaque can form, she explained.

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

“If you struggle to make time for sleep, but don’t have any issues with actually sleeping when you get to bed, try to work on maybe increasing your total sleep time by 30 to 60 minutes once a week,” suggested Harris.

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

She also suggests that you try to figure out why you’re not making time for sleep.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is it procrastinating on certain tasks?
  • Is it finally having time for yourself?
  • What’s the reason why you need to get more sleep?

Additional tips for getting more sleep

Harris suggests using timers to help remind you that it is time to wind down for bed at a specific time nightly and write your ‘why’ on the timer when it goes off on your phone.

“Also, limit auto play 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 vs. automatically going into another one,” she said.

“And finally, if you struggle with sleep and insomnia, make sure your sleep hygiene is on point,” Harris added.

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

“If that’s not enough and you still struggle with sleep quantity and quality, talk with a sleep specialist, as there are many effective non-medication and medication treatments out there,” says Harris.

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