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    A brain expert shares his 7 ‘hard rules’ for boosting memory and fighting off dementia

    The average human brain shrinks by approximately 5% per decade after the age of 40. This can have a major impact on memory and focus.

    What’s more, brain disorders are on the rise. In 2020, 54 million people worldwide had Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, and that number is expected to grow.

    But serious mental decline doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. In fact, certain lifestyle factors have a greater impact than your genes do on whether you’ll develop memory-related diseases.

    As a neuroscience researcher, here are seven hard rules I live by to keep my brain sharp and fight off dementia.

    1. Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check

    Your heart beats roughly 115,000 times a day, and with every beat, it sends about 20% of the oxygen in your body to your brain.

    High blood pressure can weaken your heart muscle, and is one of the leading causes of strokes. Ideally, your blood pressure should be no higher than 120/80.

    Cholesterol is critical to your brain and nervous system health, too. The American Heart Association recommends getting your cholesterol levels measured every four to six years.

    2. Manage sugar levels

    Blood sugar is the primary fuel of the brain. Not enough of it, and you have no energy; too much, and you can destroy blood vessels and tissue, leading to premature aging and cardiovascular disease.

    Keep in mind that sugar isn’t 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 will sneak in through packaged foods.

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

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

    And be wary of any product that includes syrup, such as agave nectar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup.

    3. Get quality sleep

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

    For most people, a healthy brain needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

    My tips for memory-boosting, immune-enhancing sleep:

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

    4. Eat a nutritious diet

    5. Don’t smoke (and avoid secondhand and thirdhand smoke)

    Smokers have a 30% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. They also put those around them at risk: Secondhand smoke contains 7,000 chemicals — and at least 70 of them can cause cancer.

    Then there’s thirdhand smoke, which is not actually smoke. It’s the residue of cigarette smoke that creates the telltale smell on clothing or in a room. That 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 participated in dinner parties or other social events had a lower risk of losing their memory. But it wasn’t because of what they ate, it was the effect of the repeated social connection.

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

    • Wish others well or check in with somebody.
    • Give a compliment without expecting anything in return.
    • Make a phone call to somebody you don’t usually reach out to.

    7. Continuously learn new skills

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