The May issue of Harvard's Men's Health Watch reports that mental decline is one of the most feared consequences of aging, but cognitive impairment is not inevitable. Here are some ways you can help reduce your risk for age-related memory loss:
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• Get mental stimulation: Brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells. Read, draw, take classes, and explore new hobbies.
• Get physical exercise: Exercise increases the number of blood vessels that bring blood to the region of the brain responsible for thought. It also spurs the development of new nerve cells. In one study, for every mile a woman walked each day, her risk of cognitive decline dropped by 13%.
• Improve your diet: A reduced-calorie diet has been linked to a lower risk of mental decline. Also remember your Bs: folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. These can help lower homocysteine levels. High homocysteine has been linked to an increase risk of dementia.
• Improve your blood pressure: High blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline.
• Improve your cholesterol: High levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) increase the risk of dementia, as do low levels of HDL ("good" cholesterol).
• Avoid tobacco: According to one study, smoking doubles the risk of dementia.
• Don’t abuse alcohol: Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to two drinks per day.
• Protect your head: Moderate to severe head injuries early in life increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
• Build social networks: One study linked frequent social interactions with a 42% reduction in dementia risk.