Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Strategies to Slash My Dementia Risk: My Journey to Promote Brain Health

A growing body of evidence suggests that the fight against dementia should begin earlier, before the brain changes that facilitate cognitive decline.

IN TODAY’S FAST-PACED WORLD, I have increasing concerns about my risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia.

I am struck by something I recently read in the Wall Street Journal:

The fight against dementia starts in your 40s.

Not your 70s or 80s.

A growing body of evidence suggests that the fight against dementia should begin earlier, before the brain changes that facilitate cognitive decline.

Photo by Nick Staal on Unsplash

My Goals

In today’s fast-paced world, concerns about dementia and cognitive decline are more prevalent than ever.

I know I am not alone in my concerns. Do you fear cognitive decline or dementia?

I want to share powerful tactics I use to try to drop my dementia risk. Join me in my journey to safeguard my brain health.

I will share actionable insights and practical tips to help you maintain cognitive vitality and embrace a fulfilling life.

I Focus on Heart Health

Good heart health is the key to optimizing my brain health and focus today.

The more I investigate cognitive decline, the more convinced I am that optimizing my heart health in midlife is a key element to avoiding a decline in my cognitive abilities.

Photo by Fadi Xd on Unsplash

OK, so what can you do?

While I know there is nothing I can do to guarantee I will not suffer from dementia (or other forms of cognitive decline), I focus on physical activity, diet, avoiding bad habits — such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption — and more.

Brain and heart health are intimately associated with one another.

Shakespeare on the Heart

Listen to Shakespeare’s take in The Life of King Henry the Fifth:

“A good leg will fall, a straight back will stoop, a black beard will turn white, a curled pate will grow bald, a fair face will wither, a full eye will wax hollow. But a good heart…is the sun and moon…for it shines bright and never changes, but keeps its course truly.” ― William Shakespeare.

As I recall, my love for Shakespeare’s Henry V began in high school.

As someone who has lived a full life, I find his work ever more insightful. I am inspired.

Let’s look at strategies I use to drop my risk of ever suffering from a cognitive decline (such as dementia).

#1. I Focus on Blood Pressure

I am proud to say that my blood pressure has dropped significantly over the last several years.

Here’s how I got down to a blood pressure of 110/76.

I aim to keep my systolic blood pressure (the top number) at 120 or less. When I was over 130/80, I turned to lifestyle changes rather than medications.

Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

Blood Pressure Goals

Most of us should aim for systolic blood pressure — the pressure in our blood vessels when our heart beats and pumps blood — of 120 or less.

The diastolic pressure — when our hearts refill with blood — should be 80 or lower.

If your blood pressure is 130/80 or above, your healthcare provider will likely suggest you do as I did: embrace a healthy lifestyle.

I wanted to make sure I did not hit 140/90 when my doctor indicated that she would offer medicine.

Tips for Dropping Your Blood Pressure

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers some valuable guidance for dropping blood pressure:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of natural light exposure. This approach is challenging in beautiful (but gray in the winter) Seattle, so I have a light therapy box as a supplemental aid.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including limiting sodium (salt) and alcohol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage stress.

#2. I Aim For 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep

Don’t get me wrong; I am not an optimal sleeper.

However, I improved my sleep hygiene and averaged seven hours of nightly sleep last week.

Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash

9 Tips for Better Sleep

Here are some of the ways I became a better sleeper:

  • I blocked the light out. Too much light exposure throws off my sleep and circadian rhythm. I turned to blackout curtains over my windows (as I don’t feel comfortable wearing a sleep mask). I try to avoid the blue light of devices — think computers and televisions — the hour before bedtime as I don’t want to mess with my body’s sleep-promoting melatonin production.
  • I get quiet. I feel calmer when I quiet the house in the evening. Some of my friends prefer white noise machines, fans, or earplugs.
  • I stay cool. I keep my thermostat at 65 to 68° F degrees. While we all have a preferred temperature (mine is around 60, but my wife tilts her head at me like I am a monster if I turn it down that much), experts recommend aiming for 60 to 67° F (15 to 19° C) if you have control.
  • I get up at the same time each day and awaken within a few minutes on either side of 5:30 a.m. Consider being consistent with your go-to sleep and awakening times, even on weekends.
  • I get at least 30 minutes of natural light exposure. This is a challenge in beautiful (but gray in the winter) Seattle, so I also have a light therapy box.
  • I limit caffeine consumption to the morning. Using caffeine to overcome daytime sleepiness is a fool’s errand; I would suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.
  • I reserve my bed for sex and sleep only.
  • No nightcaps for me. Alcohol can induce drowsiness but can wreck sleep quality.
  • I invested in a good bed and mattress.

#3. I Get Physical Activity

I get a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity. This amount translates to at least 30 minutes daily for five days per week.

I love that I could lower my blood pressure by focusing on my lifestyle.

I measure my blood pressure regularly to make sure I am on track.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Preparing to get on stage before a large audience for a physique competition certainly focuses me.

#4. I Control My Cholesterol

I certainly smiled as I removed the diagnosis of high triglycerides from my medical chart.

Here is how I did it: I turned to a balanced diet, increased my fruits (and vegetables to a lesser degree), and exercised.

I don’t smoke or consume alcohol, so I did not need to worry about those habits.

I was delighted to see my LDL (“bad” cholesterol) drop below 70. Anything below 100 would have been good, but given my dad died in his 86th year of a stroke, I prefer the lower number.

Do you know your cholesterol level?

#5. I Maintain a Healthy Weight

I maintain a healthy weight. Avoiding significant weight gain is more challenging for most of us with age.

I know I have to work harder to avoid weight gain.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Body mass index (BMI) is a decidedly imperfect health measure.

Still, my BMI of 22 to 23 is within the recommended range of 20 to 25.

Final Thoughts

For dementia risk reduction, I optimize my heart health.

The same phenomena that can promote heart artery blockage can affect my brain’s blood vessels, interfering with blood flow (and oxygen delivery).

There are no guarantees. I know that I can still get dementia despite my lifestyle interventions. Still, I love that I may be dropping cognitive decline risk by focusing on heart health and these variables:

  • blood pressure
  • sleep
  • physical activity
  • cholesterol (and diet)
  • weight
  • not smoking or using excessive alcohol
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Finally, I stay mentally and socially engaged. Continuing work into my 60s should help me stimulate my brain.

My lifestyle focus will lead me to graceful aging (I hope).


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Connect with Dr. Hunter



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