Did you know that after age 40, the brain shrinks about 5% each decade? Fortunately, health experts say there are a few common-sense habits that can reduce the common signs of aging on the brain, helping to stave off memory loss and possibly reducing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Whether you’ve reached middle age or not, incorporate these seven steps from author and brain expert Dr. Marc Milstein into your lifestyle to help keep your brain in the best possible condition.
- Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol. A healthy heart will help ensure that your brain is getting enough oxygen. High blood pressure weakens the heart muscle, so take the steps necessary to make sure yours is no higher than 120/80. Cholesterol also plays a big role in brain health, so be sure to get your levels checked at least every 4 – 6 years.
- Reduce sugar intake. While blood sugar levels fuel the brain, too much sugar can damage blood vessels and tissue, leading to premature aging. Dr. Milstein emphasizes that the real danger lies in excess amounts of sugar, which can easily sneak up on you via packaged foods. Read food labels to avoid hidden sugar in these ingredients: dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose. Avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
- Increase your sleep quality. Studies show that untreated sleep apnea can bring on memory loss much earlier in life than usual. According to Dr. Milstein, a healthy brain and your body’s immunity require between 7 – 9 hours of sleep. To help ensure a good night’s sleep, make the following part of your bedtime routine: Go to bed and wake up at the same time; turn off devices an hour before bedtime; partake in a relaxing activity before bed; and go outside and get some natural sunlight as soon as possible upon waking.
- Focus on nutrition. A healthy diet has systemic benefits for your body, especially your brain. Be sure to regularly eat: fatty fish, such as salmon, avocados, nuts, blueberries and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and collard greens. Avoid foods that have too many ingredients that you can’t pronounce, and always focus on a rainbow of colors when selecting fruits and veggies.
- Give up smoking. The harms of smoking are abundant and well-documented, including a 30% increased change of developing dementia. Commit to quitting and try your best to avoid second-hand smoke.
- Get social. Interacting with others as well as doing small acts of kindness on a regular basis help boost important brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. In fact, according to a recent study, those over age 55 who regularly attended social events had a lower risk of losing their memory.
- Keep learning. While your daily word puzzle might be fun, learning new skills and acquiring information are better ways to make new connections in the brain. And, the more connections you make, the better your memory will fare. Dr. Milstein recommends pursuing a variety of learning activities during the course of the week, such as learning a new language and playing tennis. Think of it as cross-training for your brain.