15 Habits You Never Knew Were Aging Your Brain

From the walk you skipped this morning to the snacks you’ll have before bedtime, your daily choices may have a big impact on your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Here are the top ways you’re speeding the decline of your mind.

You’re not taking steps to save your mind

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There’s no getting around the fact that normal aging brings brain changes that slow cognitive function: Some brain regions shrink, communication between neurons may decrease, blood flow in the brain may lessen, and inflammation could increase, says the National Institute on Aging (NIA). But certain daily habits may accelerate this brain aging—and there is something you can do about that. While researchers haven’t confirmed a specific “prescription” for ideal cognitive health, says Marie A. Bernard, MD, deputy director of the NIA, a growing body of research—including a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—suggests practices that are healthy in general may also be beneficial for cognition. “In other words, physical activity, managing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (i.e., high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking), getting sufficient sleep, are all good for other health reasons and may be helpful for the brain,” Dr. Bernard said in an email. “Additional practices such as staying socially active, treating depression, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption may also be beneficial.” Don’t miss the 12 signs your brain is aging faster than you are.

You’re not protecting your hearing

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Hearing loss is linked to dementia: A 2011 study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging found that senior citizens with hearing loss were “significantly more likely to develop dementia.” It’s possible that the strain of struggling to hear could overburden the brain or that hearing loss could lead to social isolation, which is an acknowledged risk factor for dementia. Whatever the reason, study volunteers with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss exhibited a twofold, threefold, and fivefold—respectively—increase in the risk of developing dementia over a period of years. Learn to recognize these silent signs of hearing loss.

You drink too much

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As far as your brain is concerned, there’s a big difference between enjoying a glass of wine with dinner and bingeing on a Saturday night. A 2012 study from Rutgers University used rats to model “moderate to heavy drinking” defined as a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. In these “drunk” rodents, the production of nerve cells in the brain’s hippocampus—the region involved in certain types of learning—dropped by almost 40 percent. “In the long term this type of behavior could have an adverse effect on learning and memory,” graduate student and lead author Megan Anderson said in a Rutgers press release. Discover our 17 tips for limiting alcohol.

You’re not caring for your heart

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Common sense says heart health is directly connected to brain health. “We know what’s good for your heart is good for your brain,” says James A. Hendrix, PhD, director of Global Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association. “If your heart is stressed and strained and your brain is not getting proper blood flow, it’s going to age more rapidly.” Indeed, a 2017 study in JAMA Neurology contributed to the body of research reaffirming this link. It found that middle-aged individuals with vascular risk factors—like hypertension or diabetes—were more likely to develop dementia as they got older. Here’s how to have a heart healthy day.