40 Habits to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia After 40
Dementia affects millions of people every year, here's how you can avoid becoming one of them.
Dementia has been on the rise in the United States for years—and unfortunately, it shows no signs of stopping. According to the Alzheimer's Association, in 2020 more than five million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer's disease—the most common form of dementia. Scarier yet, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.—one in three seniors dies with the disease or a similar type of dementia—and it takes more lives than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. But while that may be a frightening fact, there are still things you can do to keep your brain sharp. Keep reading to discover some of the surprising habits that can reduce your risk of dementia and keep you cognitively fit well into your golden years. And for some symptoms of cognitive decline that you should be on the look out for, check out 40 Early Signs of Alzheimer's Everyone Over 40 Should Know.
Get some natural sunlight.
Though too much sunlight can increase your risk of skin cancer, controlled exposure can reduce your dementia risk. In one 2014 study published in the journal Neurology, adults with low levels of vitamin D—a vitamin bioavailable via sun exposure—had more than double the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's than their replete counterparts. Fortunately, just 15 minutes outside a day should be enough to sufficiently boost your vitamin D—and if not, supplements can always help. And to know if you're getting enough sun in your life, check out 20 Surprising Signs You Have a Vitamin D Deficiency.
Take more walks.
The more you walk, the less memory decline you'll see. In 2011, researchers from the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh had individuals with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease walk five miles per week, and they found that this simple strategy was able to slow down the progression of both diseases over a 10-year period. And more ideas on how you can make exercise a part of your daily routine, check out 21 Simple Ways to Start Moving More Every Day.
Want to reduce your dementia risk? Crack open a good book. One 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals who regularly read had a lower risk of dementia.
Learn to play an instrument.
Just because you're in your 40s doesn't mean that it's too late to take up a new instrument. On the contrary, now is one of the best times for you to learn to play: The same study from The New England Journal of Medicine shows that seniors who play an instrument are less likely to develop dementia in their later years. Now that is music to our ears! And for more on how you can feel your best as you get older, check out 40 Easy Tweaks to Boost Your Health After 40.
Tackle some crossword puzzles.
While The New York Times Sunday crossword might not be everyone's cup of tea, tackling word puzzles with some frequency could keep you sharp as a tack as you age. Research published in the January 2014 edition of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society found that individuals with dementia who regularly did crossword puzzles slowed their cognitive decline. And to have some fun while keeping your mind sharp, try these 23 Super Addictive Brain Teasers to Test Your Genius.
Complete a jigsaw puzzle.
Your favorite childhood pastime could be the key to a lower risk of Alzheimer's as you age. According to 2011 research from the University of Pittsburgh, recreational activities—including jigsaw puzzles—were associated with lower rates of dementia.
Yoga isn't just the key to a more limber body. It's also the first step toward a more limber mind. A study published in the April 2017 edition of International Psychogeriatrics found that subjects over 55 who practiced Kundalini yoga had improved memory, improved executive functioning, and diminished depressive symptoms after just 12 weeks.
Meditation is another great way to both bliss out and reduce your Alzheimer's disease risk. In the same 2017 study, researchers found that meditation reduced the cognitive decline and emotional turbulence that are often precursors to an Alzheimer's diagnosis. So get in that zen zone whenever possible.
Listen to music.
Crank the music up and roll those windows down—you'll be doing both your ears and your brain a favor. In 2016, researchers at West Virginia University found that listening to music can improve memory and reduce mental decline among adults with cognitive issues.
Learn a new language.
Bilingualism is a handy asset to have in your back pocket for a number of reasons. One of those being that it's pretty great for your brain. Research published in 2013 in the journal Neurology reveals that being a polyglot may help delay the onset of dementia. So don't be afraid to start learning Spanish, French, Mandarin, or any other language today! And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Get your stress level under control.
Stress is bad for every part of our body: It makes us tense, irritable, and increases the amount of cortisol in our bodies. Worse yet, unchecked stress may even predispose you to Alzheimer's. In 2013, researchers at Sweden's Umeå University linked stress with increased rates of the disease. If you're feeling overwhelmed, there's no time like the present to seek professional help.
Enjoy regular workouts.
Believe it or not, you boost your brainpower with every workout you do. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, for instance, reveals that regular exercise can have a preventative effect on Alzheimer's, while additional research suggests that exercise can slow the progression of the disease by reducing oxidative damage in the brain. So, even if it seems unlikely that you'll become an Olympian any time soon, strapping on those sneakers can help keep you fit from the neck up, too!
If fitness isn't your favorite thing, then consider taking up gardening to change things up. According to the Alzheimer's Society, digging in the garden is a rigorous resistance activity that can reduce your dementia risk (and make your muscles look fabulous!). Aim to spend time in your garden at least twice a week for maximum protection.
Log at least seven hours of sleep at night.
Getting sufficient rest can help you reduce your Alzheimer's risk. According to researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2018, a lack of sleep increases the amount of beta-amyloid—a protein linked to Alzheimer's disease—in the brain. In the study, just a single night of sleep deprivation shot beta-amyloid levels up a staggering 5 percent among study subjects. So, don't be ashamed of that 9 p.m. bedtime—it'll protect your mind in the long run.
Lose those extra pounds.
A review of research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2013 suggests a link between obesity, the energy expenditure hormone leptin, and Alzheimer's risk. So if you're eager to reduce your risk, there's no time like the present to start eating healthier and adding some extra exercise to your routine.
And then try to maintain a consistent weight.
Your body (and brain) might've been able to handle constant weight fluctuations in your 20s and 30s, but it's much less adept at doing so once you reach your 40s and 50s. In fact, one 2019 study published in the journal BMJ Open examined 67,219 older adults and found that those who experienced a 10 percent or higher increase or decrease in BMI over a two-year period had a greater risk of dementia compared to those with a stable weight.
Get your fasting blood sugar checked.
You can kill two birds with one stone by heading to the doctor and getting your fasting blood sugar levels checked. Not only will this tell you whether you have pre-diabetes or diabetes, but the same 2019 BMJ Open study found that individuals with high fasting blood sugar were 1.6 times more likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal blood sugar readings.
Spend time with your friends.
Hanging out with members of your inner circle could be the key to maintaining your cognitive fitness later in life. Research published in the January 2017 issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia revealed a link between staying socially active and a lower risk of dementia. So go ahead and schedule a regular coffee date with your friends when your schedule permits.
Brush your teeth.
Though brushing your teeth is important before you turn 40, it's even more so as you reach middle age. Of course, this is a surefire way to prevent cavities and dreaded dentures—but beyond that, it can also reduce your dementia risk. That's according to a 2019 study published in the journal Science Advances, which found that the bacteria that causes gingivitis can migrate from the mouth into the brain and wreak havoc on nerve cells, making you more susceptible to Alzheimer's.
Lower your cholesterol.
After your 40th birthday, it's important to focus on lowering your cholesterol—not just for your heart health, but also for the sake of your memory. One 2011 study published in the journal Neurology analyzed brain specimens from autopsies and found that subjects who had higher cholesterol levels at death were also more likely to have neuritic plaques, a type of deposit in the brain that is used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease in the deceased.
Drink more coffee.
Good news for all you java fans out there: You don't have to curb your coffee cravings in order to keep your brain healthy. On the contrary, scientists actually encourage a cup of coffee in the morning to protect your memory. In one 2018 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers concluded that cups of both caffeinated and decaffeinated dark roast contained phenylindanes, compounds that block the proteins beta-amyloid and tau from clumping together and triggering diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Or brew a cup of cocoa.
Not a fan of coffee? No worries—just order a hot cup of cocoa instead. One 2014 study from Columbia University Medical Center found that the cocoa flavanols found in cocoa beans can improve the function of the dentate gyrus, the brain region associated with age-related memory loss.
Try a beet latte.
Take advantage of the beet latte trend that's taking over Instagram. According to research presented at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in 2018, there is a compound in beet extract called betanin that may inhibit reactions in the brain involved with Alzheimer's disease.
Eat more mushrooms.
The next time you whip up an egg scramble or side salad, be sure to throw some mushrooms in. One 2019 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease collected data over the course of six years and concluded that older adults who ate more than two standard portions of mushrooms per week—or at least 1 ½ cups of mushrooms—were 50 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment.
Lower your blood pressure.
Work with your doctor to get your blood pressure under control before it becomes a problem for both your heart and your brain. According to analysis from Johns Hopkins Medicine, people who took blood pressure medication were half as likely to develop Alzheimer's compared to those who weren't on prescribed meds. That's because having high blood pressure can impact the small blood vessels in the brain and in turn damage the regions responsible for thinking and memory.
Watch a funny movie.
Throw on a comedy special or a Mel Brooks classic for your next movie night. One study presented at the Experimental Biology meeting in 2014 found that older individuals who watched a 20-minute funny video performed better on a memory test and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who didn't laugh beforehand. The connection could exist because cortisol can damage neurons in the brain related to memory.
Make a Facebook account.
It's high time to start embracing the internet—not just for the sake of your social life, but for your health as well. One 2014 analysis published in The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences concluded that individuals between the ages of 50 and 89 who were digitally literate performed better on cognitive tests, indicating less cognitive decline.
Snack on some chocolate.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your Alzheimer's risk is also the sweetest: Just add some high-quality dark chocolate to your diet. Chocolate is a good source of tryptophan, which can help keep you mentally sharp as you age. In fact, according to a 2000 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, low tryptophan levels caused reduced cognitive capabilities among adults with Alzheimer's, suggesting that eating more tryptophan-rich foods—like oats, dairy, chocolate, chickpeas, seeds, eggs, and red meat—may be able to slow the disease's progression.
Load up on red fruits.
A little red fruit on your plate every day could mean many more cognitively fit years in your future. In 2017, researchers at Georgetown University's Department of Neurology found that resveratrol, a phenol found in red fruits, peanuts, and chocolate, can help maintain the integrity of a person's blood-brain barrier, dysfunction of which is a potential precursor to the onset of Alzheimer's.
Limit your alcohol intake.
Heavy drinking is a serious problem—one that doesn't just impact your liver, but also your mind. A 2018 study published in The Lancet Public Health journal found that of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia they studied, a staggering 57 percent were somehow related to chronic heavy drinking.
And when you do drink, enjoy a glass of red wine.
We've all heard of the myriad dangers of drinking, but there's one great reason to imbibe: the right adult beverage—red wine, to be exact—might just lower your risk of developing Alzheimer's. Not only does research suggest that the resveratrol in red wine can benefit the blood-brain barrier, but in 2018, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found a link between drinking the occasional glass of wine and lower levels of Alzheimer's-associated toxins in the brain.
Eat more salmon and tuna.
These—along with other fatty fish, flax seeds, and nuts—contain high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, which studies have found can ward off Alzheimer's.
This diet du jour does more than simply help you shed weight fast. It could also be the key to reducing your Alzheimer's risk. In 2018, researchers at the University of Kansas, who published their findings in Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, revealed a link between improved cognitive performance and a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet like keto.
Be cognizant about the medications you take.
Do some research before you blindly take the drugs you're being prescribed. One 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that certain classes of anticholinergic drugs—specifically antidepressants, bladder antimuscarinics, antipsychotics, and antiepileptic drugs—were associated with a 50 percent increased chance of dementia should a person take them daily for three years. Since anticholinergic drugs aren't the only ones available, the researchers advise doctors with older patients to prescribe them with caution.
Always wear a helmet.
Unsurprisingly, a serious blow to the head can have a long-term impact on your brain health. According to the Alzheimer's Association, traumatic brain injuries caused by things like falls and car accidents "may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's or another type of dementia years after the injury takes place," so always make sure to buckle up in the car, wear a helmet when you bike, and proceed with caution on slippery surfaces.
Stop drinking soda.
You might have been able to handle the waist-widening and mind-melting effects of soda in your 20s and 30s, but now that you've hit 40, it's time to give all those sugary drinks up. One 2017 study from Boston University School of Medicine found that those who consumed sugary drinks like soda and juice often were more likely to have smaller hippocampal volumes, a region of the brain associated with memory.
Blow off some steam in the sauna.
The secret to warding off dementia could be getting steamy. That's according to 2017 research published in the journal Age and Aging, which found that over the course of 20 years, men who took sauna baths four to seven times a week were 66 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who only used the sauna once a week.
From wrinkles to lung cancer, many of the dangers of smoking come as little surprise to most adults. However, there's one smoking-associated condition you might not know about: Alzheimer's disease. In 2015, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco VA Medical Center found a link between smoking and increased rates of Alzheimer's, giving you yet another reason to stop lighting up.
Get your ears checked.
Regular visits to the doctor's office can help you remedy one of the more surprising precursors to Alzheimer's disease: hearing loss. According to a 2017 study published in The Lancet, untreated hearing loss can increase a person's risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
Adhere to the Mediterranean diet.
A diet full of satisfying foods like olive oil, nuts, salmon, and red wine may sound like a pipe dream. And when you add in the notion that it might actually help your brain as much as your waistline, it definitely sounds too good to be true. However, it's not just a fantasy: In 2006, researchers at Columbia University found a link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of Alzheimer's. Success never tasted so good!