Here’s How the Mediterranean Diet Can Lower Your Dementia Risk and Extend Your Life

You might eat a lot of healthy foods — but do you know which ones might add years to your life? There are plenty of foods that, if eaten regularly, could help you live longer. It turns out the majority of these “anti-aging” foods are also part of one of the healthiest diets in the world — the Mediterranean diet. Why does this diet get so much praise? It has a lot of proven benefits — including decreasing your risk for cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are all the ways following the Mediterranean diet could keep your mind sharp and extend your life. The sooner you start, the better.

1. So, what is dementia?

Dementia results in cognitive decline and brain changes.

Dementia progresses in stages, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. |

According to Healthline, dementia causes memory loss and deterioration in cognitive function, and actually changes the brain physically. As a result, a person with dementia finds it progressively difficult to remember things, communicate, and think clearly. Dementia gets progressively worse over time, which can happen gradually in some people and quickly in others.

Alzheimer’s disease is just one of many types of dementia. Approximately 60 to 80% of people who have dementia are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

2. Who’s at risk?

Some risk factors for dementia are preventable.

Older adults are at higher risk. | Getty Images/Carsten Koall

Older adults are at the highest risk for dementia, especially those with a chronic disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are two types of risk factors: those you can prevent, and those you can’t. Increased age and genetics, for example, aren’t choices. There isn’t anything you can do to change your DNA or reverse your age. However, lifestyle choices and lifestyle-related diseases are also major dementia risk factors. Taking control of your choices now can help defend your mind against cognitive decline.

3. The Mediterranean diet might prevent or improve type 2 diabetes

The Mediterranean diet can prevent diabetes.

Lifestyle changes can decrease type 2 diabetes risk. |

Type 2 diabetes is the result of insulin resistance, where your body can’t use insulin properly. Chronically high blood sugar can have disastrous results, but lifestyle changes can improve your symptoms. Research suggests the Mediterranean diet may play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes in healthy people, and improving insulin resistance in people with the disease.

4. It could lead to fewer obesity deaths

The Mediterranean diet encourages healthy eating, which could lead to weight loss.

Mortality risk in obesity decreases with weight loss. |

The Mediterranean diet encourages physical activity as well as limiting added sugars and fat — and it could be saving lives. The International Journal of Obesity found that metabolically healthy obese participants experienced decreased mortality rates when following the Mediterranean diet. Losing weight — by eating healthy and moving — makes you much less likely to die from complications related to obesity.

5. Following this diet could reduce your risk of heart disease

The diet encourages both exercise and heart-healthy eating.

Can the Mediterranean diet protect your heart? |

Your heart will love this diet. According to the American Heart Association, foods eaten on the Mediterranean diet — nuts and seeds, olive oil, fruits and vegetables — align closely with heart-healthy guidelines. This diet also suggests eating foods that promote maintaining a healthy weight, which also reduces your chances of developing heart disease.

6. You’re also less likely to get breast cancer

Lifestyle factors can increase or decrease breast cancer risk.

Some women who follow this diet are at a reduced risk. |

Some research suggests postmenopausal women who follow a Mediterranean diet are 40% less likely to develop ER-positive breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, like many other diseases, there are lifestyle-related risk factors for breast cancer in women. Overweight and obesity, inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption all increase your breast cancer risk. You’re at an even higher risk if you’ve had children or postmenopausal hormone therapy.

7. The Mediterranean diet in a nutshell

The Mediterranean diet encourages consuming whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Healthy fats are a major part of the Mediterranean diet. |

Other than banishing processed foods, you really don’t have to give up much on this diet — you just have to limit saturated fats like red meat and butter. Mayo Clinic says the diet involves eating mostly plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Using olive oil, limiting red meat, and drinking red wine (in moderation!) are also encouraged, along with eating fish and poultry and taking advantage of herbs and spices to replace salt.

Another unique feature of the diet — and possibly one of the reasons it’s so effective — is its emphasis on exercise. The diet itself keeps it simple — do it regularly. However, the American Heart Association recommends adults engage in moderate exercise for at least two and a half hours each week (not all at once!) for optimal benefits. Walking your dog counts!