BRAIN HEALTH: What Helps, What Hurts


There's some good news on cognitive function as you age.



Exercising for longer periods — at least 30 minutes or more at a time — appears to be better for brain health than shorter sessions. And it's never too late to start. People older than 65 showed more benefits than those 55 to 65.

Staying socially and intellectually active

Activities that challenge your brain — including reading books, writing letters and learning a new language — all help preserve brain function, as do social activities such as volunteering, playing cards, attending worship services and talking with friends.

Eating a healthy diet

Although no specific diet has been proved to maintain or improve brain health, studies of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets justify eating less meat and consuming more nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables and olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, have been shown to help cognition in some studies.

Getting good sleep

Poor sleep quality is linked to cognitive impairment and Alzheimers. Breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, also put older people at higher risk for memory problems and dementia.

Keeping your heart healthy

What's good for your heart is also good for your brain. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are linked to poor brain health later in life. Lowering blood pressure with medication seems to help prevent brain problems )but it's unclear whether lowering cholesterol with drugs helps).



In midlife, depression doubles the risk for cognitive decline and dementia, possibly because depression causes changes in the hippocampus. Late-life depression is also linked to dementia, although it's unclear whether the depression may be an early symptom of undiagnosed brain health problems.

Hearing and vision loss

Problems hearing and seeing are both linked to trouble with thinking, memory and socialization and should be corrected, if possible. One Johns Hopkins study found that older adults with hearing problems appear to have a greater rate of brain shrinkage as they age.


Not only can daily stress cause memory problems, but long-term stress is connected with faster rates of decline in brain health, too. Methods to reduce stress — such as meditation and mindfulness — may help, but their effectiveness requires further study.

Air pollution

It may be that pollution increases heart disease, stroke and lung problems — which in turn cause problems with brain health — or that small particles in the pollution directly harm the brain. One new study found that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked with brain shrinkage, brain damage and impaired function

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