There are all kinds of gimmicks that claim to keep your brain strong and prevent dementia, from over-the-counter supplements to brain training programs. But there isn’t one magic fix. “There is nothing proven that will 100 percent keep you from getting dementia,” said Heather Mulder, senior outreach manager at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, AZ.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands in frustration. While there are no guarantees, there are steps you can take that will help keep your brain sharp as you age. “The best thing you can do is modify your lifestyle to support your brain health and reduce your risk,” Mulder says.
1. Keep your body strong and healthy with exercise
“Adopt the mantra that ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’ and you’re going to be in pretty good shape when it comes to brain health,” Mulder said. “Physical activity is number one. You need to move your body to take care of your mind. Exercise is vitally important for your brain health.”
She says you’ll see optimum benefits with 30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise per day. Try brisk walking, hiking, swimming, or biking.
2. Choose a heart-healthy diet
Again, keeping your brain healthy and keeping your heart healthy go hand in hand. Mulder recommends the Mediterranean diet, which is centered around fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, nuts, poultry, and fish. It limits red meat to a few times per month and discourages processed foods and fast food.
3. Connect with friends and family
“As humans we’re meant to connect with one another,” Mulder said. While the pandemic adds a level of challenges to connection with friends and family, it’s not insurmountable. “If you can’t be together in person, pick up the phone or connect online. Something is better than nothing. It’s good for your mental health and cognition,” Mulder said.
4. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, or you’re not getting quality sleep, it can affect your memory and thinking. Aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. If you aren’t sleeping well, try to:
- Stick with a consistent bedtime and wake time
- Get your pets and electronics out of the bedroom—that means the TV, too
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark
- Avoid eating or exercising for four hours before bedtime
5. Stay mentally active
You don’t need fancy brain games to keep your mind engaged. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some great activities include learning new skills and hobbies, taking classes, playing games, reading, or finding new ways to approach tasks.
The bottom line: Exercise, eat well, stay connected socially, get enough sleep, and stay mentally active to keep your brain sharp and healthy as you get older. And the best time to start is now. “You’ll get the most bang for your buck if you start in middle age, but no matter your age, you will glean benefits from living a brain-healthy lifestyle,” Mulder said.
She shares this final tip: “I heard a researcher interviewed about lifestyle factors and she was asked the best advice she could give to live a brain healthy lifestyle. She replied, ‘Move.’ When asked for a second piece of advice she said, ‘Move more.’”