A Brain Expert Shares His 7 ‘Strict Rules’ for Boosting Memory and Fighting Dementia


The average human brain shrinks by about 5% per decade after age 40. This can have a major impact on memory and concentration.

In addition, brain disorders are on the rise. In 2020, 54 million people worldwide suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, and this number is expected to increase.

But severe mental decline doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. In fact, some lifestyle factors have a greater impact than your genes on the development of memory-related diseases.

As a neuroscientist, here are seven strict rules I follow to keep my brain sharp and fight dementia.

1. Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control

Your heart beats about 115,000 times a day, and with each beat, it sends about 20% of your body’s oxygen to your brain.

High blood pressure can weaken the heart muscle and is one of the main causes of stroke. Ideally, your blood pressure should not exceed 120/80.

Cholesterol is also essential for the health of your brain and nervous system. The American Heart Association recommends having your cholesterol levels checked every four to six years.

2. Manage sugar levels

Blood sugar is the brain’s main fuel. Not enough and you have no energy; too much, and you can destroy blood vessels and tissues, leading to premature aging and cardiovascular diseases.

Keep in mind that sugar is not an enemy, excess sugar is. It’s easy for grams of sugar to add up, even if you think you’re being careful — and usually, sugar sneaks into packaged foods.

Where is the sugar hidden? Look for these in the ingredient list:

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose

And beware of any product that contains syrup, such as agave nectar syrup or high fructose corn syrup.

3. Get quality sleep

Studies show that people with untreated sleep apnea increase their risk of memory loss on average 10 years before the general population.

For most people, a healthy brain needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

My tips for sleep that boosts memory and strengthens the immune system:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule.
  • Turn off devices an hour before bedtime.
  • Do something relaxing before bedtime, like listening to soft music or doing mindful breathing exercises.
  • Get outside and into natural sunlight as soon as you can after waking up.

4. Eat a nutritious diet

One way to keep things simple is to have most, if not all, of these items in my grocery cart:

  • Fatty fish like salmon
  • Lawyers
  • Nuts
  • blueberries
  • Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens

When I shop, I ask myself three questions to determine if something is good for my brain:

1. Will it spoil? In many cases, perishables are a good thing. Additives and preservatives that keep foods from spoiling wreak havoc on your gut bacteria.

2. Are there tons of ingredients in this packaged food? And by the way, can you pronounce the ingredients? Or does this sound like the stuff of a chemical experiment? Also avoid anything that has sugar as one of the first ingredients.

3. Do you see a rainbow on your plate? The chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors help boost brain health.

5. Don’t smoke (and avoid second-hand and third-hand smoke)

Smokers have a 30% more likely to develop dementia than non-smokers. They also put those around them at risk: second-hand smoke contains 7,000 chemicals – and at least 70 of them can cause cancer.

Then there’s third-hand smoke, which isn’t actually smoke. It is the residue of cigarette smoke that creates the telltale smell on clothing or in a room. This residue alone can emit chemicals that are toxic to the brain.

6. Make social connections

In a recent study, people over the age of 55 who regularly attended dinner parties or other social events had a less risk of memory loss. But it wasn’t because of what they ate, it was the effect of repeated social bonding.

To reduce isolation and loneliness, you can also boost brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins by performing small acts of kindness:

  • Wish others good luck or contact someone.
  • Give a compliment without expecting anything in return.
  • Make a phone call to someone you don’t normally contact.

7. Continually learn new skills

Maintaining a good memory isn’t just about brain games like Sudoku, Wordle, and crosswords.

Learning skills and acquiring information are much more effective ways to make new connections in the brain. The more connections you make, the more likely you are to retain and even improve your memory.

When you think about learning something new, approach it like you would physical training. You want to work different muscles on different days. The same goes for the brain.

During this week, try training your brain by mixing mental activities (learning a new language or reading a book) and physical learning activities (playing tennis or soccer).

Marc MilsteinPhD, is a brain health expert and author of “The Aging Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Combat Dementia.” He earned his Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and his BSc in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UCLA, and has conducted research in genetics, cancer biology, and neuroscience. Follow him on Twitter and instagram.

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