As we get older, our brains age just as the rest of the body, but simple daily habits can fight off the risk of dementia.
Beyond the age of 40, studies show that our brains see an average of 5% shrinkage every decade, leading to memory loss and reduced focus.
The more severe decline may then lead to serious dementia and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
But dementia doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of growing older.
While there is no definitive way to prevent memory decline and dementia, enough evidence shows simple habits can slow memory loss.
This is due to certain lifestyle factors scientifically being linked to mental decline.
When it comes to keeping your brain sharp and warding off memory loss, building a brain-healthy lifestyle is key.
Here are simple 5 daily habits to build to ward off dementia and boost memory, if you want to age well and prevent memory loss later in your life.
1. Get quality sleep
Sleep is linked to many aspects of your health and wellness, and your brain is no exception.
A 2020 Harvard study revealed how sleep insufficiency and disturbance lead to the development of dementia (1). More specifically, they found poor sleep further contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (2).
The Harvard researchers studied 2,800 participants over the age of 65. Through their 2-year self-report sleep tracking, those with less than 5 hours of sleep per night had twice the risk of dementia. Furthermore, they found those with a lack of quality sleep had a higher chance of death 5 years later.
On the contrary, those with good sleep habits exhibited better brain functions, which may help prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Lack of quality sleep is more common in the older adult population. As you age, be sure to not only get sufficient sleep but improve your sleep quality by implementing a few proven tips.
Tips to get quality sleep:
- Turn off electronic devices and keep them away from the bedroom.
- Get a comfortable and appropriate mattress.
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule
- Exercise during the day.
- Intentionally relax and release tight muscles before bed.
2. Eat a heart-healthy diet
A healthy diet supports not only your sleep but also adds to your brain health. There is mounting evidence that what we eat and the diet we follow influence our cognitive functions and memory as we age (3).
Furthermore, research indicates hypertension is linked to brain health. This is because the brain accounts for only 2 % of the body weight but receives 15-20% of the blood supply (4).
So following an eating pattern that’s good for your heart can also help your cognitive functions.
A heart-healthy diet can prevent heart conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The conditions are known to raise the risk of cognitive decline later in life.
One observational study done in Hawaii measuring over 3,000 men with an average age of 78 in Hawaii saw this connection in their research. The researchers found those who suffered from blood pressure 20 years earlier had a higher risk of poor cognitive function. Every 10-mmHg higher in systolic blood pressure measurement meant a 9% increase in poor brain health (5).
There are several leading diets that are known to be good for the heart. To start, the Dash diet is designed for those with hypertension. The Mediterranean diet is also known for its benefits to the heart and overall health.
Derived from those two, The MIND diet is specifically tailored to benefit and protect the aging brain (6).
There are foods also known to clog your arteries and increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Be sure to avoid those heart-damaging foods to keep your heart and brain health.
3. Quit Smoking
If there is one habit you should give up to keep your brain healthy and sharp is smoking.
Strong evidence points out that smoking can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
It’s estimated that smokers face a 30-50% increased risk of developing dementia than non-smokers (7).
Some research also indicates that 11% of Alzheimer’s disease cases in the U.S. can be due to smoking. If you reduce your smoking by just 25%, the same research estimates that it’ll cut down more than 1 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide (8).
If you are a non-smoker, your risk increases if you are exposed to second-hand smoke.