The average human brain shrinks by approximately 5% per decade after the age of 40. This can have a major impact on memory and concentration.
But severe mental decline doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. In reality, certain lifestyle factors have a greater impact than your genes on the development of memory-related diseases.
As a neuroscientist, here are seven strict rules I follow to keep my brain sharp and fight dementia.
Your heart beats about 115,000 times a day, and with each beat, it sends about 20% of your body’s oxygen to your brain.
High blood pressure can weaken the heart muscle and is one of the main causes of stroke. Ideally, your blood pressure should not exceed 120/80.
Cholesterol is also essential for the health of your brain and nervous system. The American Heart Association recommends measuring your cholesterol level every four to six years.
Blood sugar is the brain’s main fuel. Not enough and you have no energy; too much, and you can destroy blood vessels and tissues, leading to premature aging and cardiovascular diseases.
Keep in mind that sugar is not an enemy, excess sugar is. It’s easy for grams of sugar to add up, even if you think you’re careful — and usually, sugar sneaks into packaged foods.
Where is the sugar hidden? Look for these in the ingredient list:
And beware of any product that contains syrup, such as agave nectar syrup or high fructose corn syrup.
Studies show that people with untreated sleep apnea increase their risk of memory loss on average 10 years before the general population.
For most people, a healthy brain needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
My tips for sleep that boosts memory and strengthens the immune system:
- Keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule.
- Turn off devices an hour before bedtime.
- Do something relaxing before bed, like listening to soft music or doing mindful breathing exercises.
- Get outside and into natural sunlight as soon as you can after waking up.
One way to keep things simple is to have most, if not all, of these items in my grocery cart:
- Fatty fish like salmon
- Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens
When I shop, I ask myself three questions to determine if something is good for my brain:
1. Will it spoil? In many cases, perishables are a good thing. Additives and preservatives that keep foods from spoiling wreak havoc on your gut bacteria.
2. Are there tons of ingredients in this packaged food? And by the way, can you pronounce the ingredients? Or does this sound like the stuff of a chemical experiment? Also avoid anything that has sugar as one of the first ingredients.
3. Do you see a rainbow on your plate? Chemical products that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors help improve brain health.
Then there’s third-hand smoke, which isn’t actually smoke. It is the residue of cigarette smoke that creates the telltale smell on clothing or in a room. This residue alone can emit chemicals which are toxic to the brain.
In a recent study, people over the age of 55 who regularly attended dinner parties or other social events had a less risk of memory loss. But it wasn’t because of what they ate, it was the effect of repeated social bonding.
To reduce isolation and loneliness, you can also boost brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. doing small acts of kindness:
- Wish others good luck or contact someone.
- Give a compliment without expecting anything in return.
- Make a phone call to someone you don’t normally reach.
Maintaining a good memory isn’t just about brain games like Sudoku, Wordle, and crosswords.
Learning skills and acquiring information are much more effective ways to make new connections in the brain. The more connections you make, the more likely you are to retain and even improve your memory.
When you think about learning something new, approach it like you would physical training. You want to work different muscles on different days. The same goes for the brain.
During this week, try training your brain by mixing mental activities (learning a new language or reading a book) and physical learning activities (playing tennis or soccer).
Marc MilsteinPhD, is a brain health expert and author of “The Aging Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Combat Dementia.” He earned his Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and his BSc in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UCLA, and has conducted research in genetics, cancer biology, and neuroscience. Follow him on Twitter and instagram.
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