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Research Reveals Surprisingly Simple Strategies to Keep Your Brain in Peak Condition

Tips for a younger, smarter, and faster brain for years to come.

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The fact that you want to keep your brain sharp as you age is, well, a no-brainer, but whether or not you develop dementia is out of your control… right? A new study proves minor lifestyle changes can slash the risk of Alzheimer’s. What’s more, notes study author Richard Isaacson, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic in the Center for Brain Health at Florida Atlantic University, “We saw greater improvement for women, significantly decreasing the likelihood of dementia.”

A likely reason, says Kim G. Johnson, MD, assistant professor in the department of neurology at Duke Medical School, “Women may be more motivated to implement lifestyle changes, integrate them into their lives consistently, and change their health behaviors in a positive way.” These findings are especially important because women have a higher risk of dementia. “Two out of every three brains with Alzheimer’s are female,” says Dr. Isaacson. “Yet our study shows genes are not your destiny — you have control.” Just read on for easy ways to give your brain a boost.

Best Exercise: ‘Steady’ Walking

Excess belly fat increases a woman’s risk of dementia, says Dr. Isaacson. Blame the declining estrogen levels that contribute to a “menopot” and raise the risk of plaques in the brain. The good news? Not only does exercise power off pounds, it also boosts brain health by spurring the growth of new neurons. And you may be surprised by how easy it is to get these perks: Recent studies have shown that moderate physical activity can lead to a reduction in cognitive decline. And lower-intensity “steady state” exercise, like walking briskly for 45 minutes three days a week, puts you in the fat-burning zone, adds Dr. Isaacson. Don’t love walking? Dancing can also help decrease your risk of dementia. Turns out everything from socializing on the dance floor to learning new steps gives your brain a workout.

Best Food: A Handful of Blueberries

No need to overhaul your whole diet to boost your brain. Simply start with small steps, like putting more berries on the menu, advises Dr. Isaacson. A study in the journal Nutrients shows that eating just half a cup of blueberries daily can delay brain decline. Credit for blueberries’ brain-boosting properties goes to antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds that give blueberries their distinctive sapphire hue and protect them from disease also protect us, improving neurological function and regulating high insulin levels, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

Best Extras to Decrease Alzheimer’s Risk: This Drugstore Duo

People with high levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, slash their risk of Alzheimer’s by almost 50 percent, according to a new study. And it’s especially important for those most vulnerable to dementia to ensure they get enough omega-3s, says Dr. Isaacson, as the study showed the effect was even stronger for these women. Experts advise supplementing with 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3 DHA daily.

More good news: A study of people 65 years and older found that those taking a daily multivitamin showed a 60 percent improvement in brain function compared to folks not taking a multivitamin. “The nutrients in a multivitamin likely work synergistically to repair the brain,” explains Mara Z. Vitolins, a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University, adding that this news is promising for women, who represented a majority of participants.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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