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Seven Steps to Better Brain Health

Research suggests that up to 40{4041723e139b6b4f31dddbe6d75f16c77973055679a7bb523e38f021bdade945} of dementia is preventable through the modification of lifestyle factors. Start on the journey toward better brain health today by following these seven scientifically backed steps provided by the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the discovery of drugs to prevent, treat, and cure Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. ADDF’s CognitiveVitality.Org is an evidence-based resource on brain health and dementia prevention.

  1. Eat Healthy

The brain uses around 20{4041723e139b6b4f31dddbe6d75f16c77973055679a7bb523e38f021bdade945} of body’s energy, so proper nutrition is critical for optimal brain performance. Diets rich in fish, fruits, and vegetables are associated with better brain health, while diets high in processed foods may increase the risk for dementia. The best diets are those which contain a wide variety of nutritious foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, because the nutrients found in different foods work together to boost overall brain health. For example, the brain boosting capacity of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and nuts, is increased when combined with certain vitamins found in fruits and vegetables.

LEARN MORE: Mediterranean diet, Brain healthy diets, Omega-3 (DHA), Dietary vitamins, Processed meat and dementia, Diet soda and the brain

  1. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential for brain function. Not getting enough sleep may increase the risk for dementia by 20-30{4041723e139b6b4f31dddbe6d75f16c77973055679a7bb523e38f021bdade945}. Sleeping for 7 to 8 hours a night has been shown to be optimal for health. During sleep, particularly deep sleep, the brain clears out waste products that accumulate during the day, and when this process does not occur, it leads to a feeling of brain fog. Toxic proteins associated with dementia are cleared out in this process during sleep but will start accumulating in the brain if they are not properly cleared. Sleep apnea may increase the risk for dementia by chronically disrupting sleep. Some sleep medications may also increase the risk for dementia.

LEARN MORE: Optimal sleep, Sleep and toxic proteins, Sleep and dementia, Sleep apnea, Sleep medicine, Melatonin

  1. Exercise

Engaging in regular exercise is associated with reduced risk for dementia. Exercise is known to be important for heart health, but it also promotes cognitive health, in part, through the maintenance of good cardiovascular health. The blood provides fuel and oxygen to the brain, so the heart and vascular system need to be in good working order to ensure that the brain gets all the blood it requires. Exercise has also been shown to induce brain boosting factors. Getting at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week plus strength conditioning is recommended.

LEARN MORE: Exercise and the brain, Exercise and dementia, Brain and heart health, Fitness and brain health

  1. Alleviate Stress

Hormones produced during periods of stress can impair memory function, and chronic stress is associated with an increased risk for dementia. Regular practice of stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, gratitude practice, and deep breathing exercises, may mitigate the impact of stress on dementia risk.

LEARN MORE: Stress and the brain, Yoga, Meditation, Breathing exercises, Gratitude

  1. Be Social

As humans, we are social creatures. A lack of social connections can lead to a state of chronic stress, which can negatively impact the brain. Loneliness is associated with increased risk for dementia. Individuals who maintain social activity throughout life, such as by participating in community groups, show lower rates of cognitive decline.

LEARN MORE: Loneliness and dementia, Social activity and cognitive health, Social activity and dementia

  1. Keep Learning

Keeping the brain active and stimulated throughout life has been shown to make the brain more resilient. People with highly resilient brains can keep their cognition intact even when their brains start showing evidence of dementia-related pathology. A form of brain training called speed of processing training was shown to have a protective effect on cognition in clinical studies. Many cognitively engaging activities are associated with benefits, such as doing daily puzzles or learning to play a musical instrument. The key is consistency, as stronger gains are seen with more regular engagement in cognitively stimulating activities.

LEARN MORE: Brain resiliency, Brain training, Brain puzzles, Music and the brain, Cognitive stimulation

  1. Manage Chronic Illness

Many chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, increase the risk for dementia, particularly vascular dementia. Due to damage to the vasculature, these conditions can prevent the brain from getting adequate flow of blood and oxygen, which impairs the ability of brain cells to function properly. These risks can be mitigated when these diseases are properly controlled with medication. But taking multiple medications increases the risk for side effects, some of which may impact the brain. It is critical to tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the drugs or supplements you are taking to minimize these risks.

LEARN MORE: Hypertension and the brain, Hypertension and dementia, Diabetes and dementia, Diabetes drugs and the brain, Polypharmacy, Metformin, Liraglutide, Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)

To continue your journey toward better brain health and stay up to date on the latest prevention tips check out CognitiveVitality.Org or sign up for our CognitiveVitality newsletter.


-Betsy Mills, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation’s (ADDF) Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention team. She is a contributor to ADDF’s  

CognitiveVitality.org, a resource that evaluates the scientific evidence behind therapies to promote brain health and/or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.