How To Keep Your Brain Healthy As You Age

More than 55 million people worldwide were living with dementia in 2020, and Alzheimer's Disease International estimates that a person develops dementia every 3 seconds. As more people in the world live longer, the population of seniors is growing larger. This makes the early diagnosis and interventions for dementia more important since dementia mainly affects older people.

Researchers are looking into various factors that contribute to declines in brain health. A 2022 study in the European Heart Journal looked at the impact of vascular risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, BMI, and cholesterol levels since they can affect the flow of blood into the brain. The researchers conducted MRI scans of people between the ages of 44 and 79 and asked how often they smoked and whether they were diagnosed with hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. They also measured pulse pressure, BMI, and waist-to-hip ratio.

The study found that smoking, hypertension, and diabetes were the biggest factors that contributed to various declines in the brain. A higher BMI and waist-to-hip ratio also contributed to some brain decline.

Therefore, to keep your brain healthy through the years, one way is to quit smoking. According to a 2011 study in NeuroImage, people who smoked had lost significantly more gray matter in the brain after 2 years than people who didn't smoke. Losing gray matter in the brain is connected to cognitive decline.

Exercise helps brain health by reducing hypertension

The National Institutes of Health defines high blood pressure to be 130 or greater for systolic pressure or 80 or higher for diastolic pressure. If your blood pressure is elevated (a systolic between 120 and 129) or higher, incorporating a walking program can reduce your blood pressure. A 2018 study in PeerJ recruited people with systolic pressures above 120 to begin walking for 15 to 30 minutes a day. The participants built up the number of weekly minutes and walked for 2 months until they reached 300 minutes of total walking per week. After 6 months, the participants significantly reduced their systolic blood pressure. Those whose blood pressure was highest saw the biggest drops in blood pressure, and the participants also saw reductions in weight, BMI, and waist circumference.

Another study looked at the direct effects of walking on brain health. A 2013 study in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that Alzheimer's patients who walked more than 2 hours per week had improved their scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination after a year.

Healthy diet helps brain health by reducing diabetes risk

To keep your brain healthy, you can cut your risk of diabetes by adopting the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, and legumes and includes moderate amounts of seafood, dairy, and poultry, according to the Mayo Clinic. A 2020 study in Nutrition & Diabetes followed the health habits of almost 12,000 people aged 45 to 65 for 30 years. The researchers found that eating foods that adhered to the Mediterranean Diet were less likely to develop diabetes. Specifically, people who ate more nuts and legumes, drank alcohol in moderation, and opted for less processed meat and red meat had lower incidences of diabetes.

The Mediterranean Diet has also been linked more directly to cognitive health. In a 2020 study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Parkinson's disease patients who adopted the Mediterranean Diet for 10 weeks showed improved executive function, language, attention, memory, and concentration.

A healthy lifestyle overall makes you less likely to develop dementia. A 2022 study in Nutrients found that adhering to the Mediterranean Diet, getting good sleep, staying physically active, and engaging in social activities make you more resistant to cognitive decline.