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, a review of previously published studies found. Conversely, consuming foods that are high in saturated fats can negatively impact memory and other brain functions, according to a review published in May 2022.
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 Mediterranean 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, a review of earlier studies published in 2021 found.