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8 Tips to Keep Your Brain Sharp and Healthy as You Age

So you’ve noticed some changes in your thinking. Perhaps you often misplace your keys or have trouble coming up with the right word in conversations. Before you assume you’re developing a serious health problem, such as Dementia, be aware that your brain changes with age, both in terms of its size and structure, and these differences can, and usually do, impact how well it works over time.

However, there are steps you can take to help preserve functions such as memory, even as your brain shrinks in volume and its nerve cells decline in size and ability to communicate with one another. Based on currently available research, these eight tips can help you remain mentally sharp as you get older:

1. Control Your Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Levels High cholesterol and high blood pressure increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, which are thought to contribute to the development of certain types of dementia, or severe memory loss. Good cardiovascular health — which means having healthy blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels, along with maintaining a healthy weight — is associated with better cognitive function, according to a study published in 2021 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Your doctor can let you know whether your levels are in a healthy range, as well as what steps you can take to improve or maintain your cardiovascular health.

2. Don’t Smoke or Drink Excessive Amounts of Alcohol Because smoking and drinking too much both put you at an increased risk of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association, if you smoke, it’s best to quit, and if you drink, to do so only in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as less than two drinks per day for men and less than one per day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed. A “drink” equals 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor. Underscoring the importance of limiting your alcohol intake, a study published in July 2022, found that alcohol consumption above seven units per week is associated with higher brain iron, which in turn is associated with worse cognitive function. Seven units of alcohol is about the amount in four bottles of beer or three standard glasses of wine.

3. Exercise Regularly Regular physical activity is thought to help maintain blood flow to the brain and reduce your risk of conditions such as high blood pressure that are associated with developing dementia. A study published in 2020, found additional positive effects of exercise on the brain and concluded that promoting a physically active lifestyle in older adults could potentially delay about one-third of dementia cases worldwide. At any age, it’s important to choose activities you feel comfortable doing, and to build up the time and intensity of your workouts gradually.

4. Maintain a Healthy Diet What you eat can make a big difference in how well you think and remember things. Foods containing nutrients such as Vitamin E, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with improved cognitive function. Conversely, consuming foods that are high in saturated fats can negatively impact memory and other brain functions. Based on these findings, it’s best if your diet emphasizes foods such as green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, and seafood. Eating plans like the Mediterranian diet, which features vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which focuses on fruits and veggies, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meats, are good choices for overall good health. A newer diet called MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) incorporates many elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets but with modifications to maximize the positive effects on brain function, says Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The MIND diet includes 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. And it limits five unhealthy groups: red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried food and fast food.

5. Stimulate Your Brain Having a mentally stimulating job and doing other activities that engage your brain may help build cognitive reserve — or the ability to function well in spite of brain diseases or other challenges — according to the Alzheimer’s Association. You can also keep your mind active by learning new skills. Acquiring skills in later life, including those related to adopting new technologies, may have the potential to reduce or delay cognitive changes associated with aging. 6. Socialize More Making new friends or spending time with theones you have might be good for your brain. A study published in 2021 that looked at older adults in Japan found that participants with consistently high or increased social engagement had a lower risk of dementia than those with consistently low social engagement.

7. Stay Sexually Active Sexual intimacy— however you define it — can be pleasurable at any age, and a study published in 2017 actually linked weekly sexual activity with improved cognitive function in adults ages 50 to 83. Sex may increase the release of certain brain chemicals that boost cognitive function, the authors suggest. Consistent sexual activity may also be indicative of someone who is physically, mentally, and socially engaged, they say.

8. Play Brain Games Playing brain or memory games— and even playing games in general — can help keep the brain healthy. Although these games won’t offset the brain changes that come with aging, they may help test and train your memory, experts say. In addition, playing games with friends and family can also be part of an active social life, which has its own brain benefits. “Brain training games” — or computerized cognitive training games designed specifically to exercise memory, attention, speed, flexibility, and problem-solving — can be fun, and may also help, but studies on their role in reducing dementia risk have yielded mixed results.

When to Seek Help for Fuzzy Thinking or Forgetfulness Although these steps can help keep your brain healthy, they won’t reverse the effects of dementia. If you or a loved one is experiencing memory loss or other cognitive symptoms that interfere with normal activities and relationships, talk to your doctor. Some signs you may be experiencing memory loss that’s beyond what’s normally seen with aging include:

  • Asking questions repeatedly

  • Forgetting or mixing up common words when speaking

  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, such as following a recipe or assembly instructions

  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting keys in the medicine cabinet

  • Becoming lost while walking or driving in an area that’s familiar to you

  • Unexplained mood and behavior changes


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