I recently took an Internet test to see what my life expectancy was.

It asked a lot of questions about life habits, history of disease in the family and even education. After I’d answered all the questions I clicked the Calculate-Life-Expectancy button at the bottom of the page.

Barring any accidents, I could live to be 94.3 years old. That is way longer than I expected as I’ve always thought I’d leave this planet at 85. The question is not only how long can I live, but, how can I live a long and healthy life.

Want to Have a Long and Healthy Life? Here Are Some Sobering Statistics

The sobering part of this is that by age 80 we have a 30% chance of getting dementia and by 85 it’s almost a 50% chance of getting some type of dementia whether it’s from Alzheimer’s (AD), Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, vascular dementia or other diseases.

That’s pretty scary to me since my husband, Bob, had Alzheimer’s for 14 years. He passed away unable to feed or toilet himself, walk or remember our life together. He could barely speak and when he did he mostly made no sense at all.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. The report also says that 5.5 million people in the US are living with the disease, and two-thirds of those are women. So not only are women the major source of unpaid family caregivers but we are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Embracing our Brains

Despite these statistics, I find dwelling on them makes for too many anxious or sleepless nights. For me, it’s important to know the facts but not be controlled by them. Instead I choose to live with a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle. How about you? Are you motivated to make changes in your lifestyle to stave off dementia? Not sure how to do this?

The Alzheimer’s Organization suggests ways to give yourself a better chance of doing just that. And the number one item is not a surprise. Here it comes (and I know you might not want to hear this) – exercise.

I’ve been reading more and more articles on the importance of exercise in our elder years. No, I don’t like that word either, so how about in our “wisdom years.” And scientific studies show an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

You don’t have to go to the gym like I do. You can choose whatever you like as long as it gets your heart rate up for 30 to 45 minutes at a time several days a week. Start out slowly, but start!

And work your way up to the optimal time. I find it so difficult to get myself out of the office and to the gym because there’s always work to do and I love my work, but once I get there I feel great – especially when the workout is over!

While I’m on the elliptical and treadmill, I study a foreign language and so I’m exercising my brain as well as my body. It also takes the tedium out of going nowhere fast. And learning something new happens to be another recommendation of the Alzheimer’s Organization for staving off AD.

A third benefit of aerobic exercise is that if you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia you’ll be taking care of yourself by getting some respite and energizing yourself to go back to the caregiving grind.

If you’re under a doctor’s care, be sure to check your exercise regime with the doc and remember to start out slowly.

Food, Glorious Food

Another measure the Alzheimer’s Organization suggests is eating a heart healthy diet that not only helps your brain but also reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. One of the best ways to do this is to eat more vegetables. I’m not talking about plain steamed or boiled veggies but deliciously prepared vegetables, satisfying vegetables.

I’m a firm believer in not denying myself the food I love but rather in lowering the portion size, and of course eating those vegetables. Some of the recipes from Food Glorious Food, my column in the Bali Advertiser, might give you some ideas.

Dishes like Caponata Siracusa, a delicious Sicilian eggplant dish, Roasted Pumpkin with Onions and Sage, or Fennel, Potato and Arugula Salad. These and many more recipes can be found here.

A few of the other suggestions for loving your brain are to quit smoking, get enough sleep, reduce stress and stay socially engaged. These suggestions have been shown to help us buoy our cognitive function.

If I’m going to live to that 94.3 years, I want to do it with style, verve, energy, a continuing desire to learn new things, a sense of wonder and, oh yes, with humor. Embracing my brain, cherishing it and treating it right go a long way to attaining those goals.

What are your favorite forms of exercise? What ideas do you have to motivate yourself to eat a heart healthy diet? How do you embrace your brain? What do you think are the keys to a long and healthy life? Please join the conversation.

Susan TerebaSusan Tereba, an artist, jewelry designer and writer, has lived in Bali for 27 years. She had 14 years of experience as the primary caregiver for her husband, who had Alzheimer’s. Susan now writes and speaks with the goal of inspiring other caregivers for those with chronic illnesses. Please visit her website for more details.

Let's Have a Conversation!