Protect your brain health

Many factors can influence your risk of dementia and stroke, including your genes, age, and lifestyle. You can’t change your family history or turn back time — but you do have control over your behavior and lifestyle. Researchers have found that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline and stroke by adopting key lifestyle habits like the ones below. Start now! It’s never too late to make changes that benefit your brain and your body.

  1. Break a sweat. Studies have proven that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline. Did you know that regular exercise physically increases the brain’s capacity for memory, so it takes longer for aging to take effect? It also keeps your brain working efficiently as you get older and helps prevent strokes, heart disease, and other serious conditions. Simply put, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind — the list of benefits is virtually endless. Try to spend at least 30 minutes a day being physically active.
  2. Stay mentally active. To help yourself stay sharp, do things that challenge and activate your mind. That might be reading, playing cards or board games, crafting, taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering. Continuing your education can also help reduce your risk of dementia — plus it’s a great opportunity to advance your career or learn about something that really interests you. Look for courses at local colleges, community centers, or online.
  3. Control high blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) damages your heart, blood vessels, and brain, and increases your risk of dementia and stroke. You can reduce these risks by making healthy lifestyle changes like exercising, eating a healthy low-sodium diet, and quitting smoking. There are also medications that help manage blood pressure, if necessary. Remember, high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it usually has no obvious symptoms. The only way to know is to get it checked by your doctor, which is why you should never skip your annual checkups and screenings.
  4. Make healthy food choices. Eat a healthy and balanced diet to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Aim for a mix of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and seafood, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Include foods like fish, nuts, seeds, berries, leafy greens, and avocados in your diet. Avoid saturated fats, processed foods, sugary snacks, and high-cholesterol foods like burgers, cheese, and ice cream — these can increase your blood pressure and risk of stroke.
  5. Get quality sleep. Getting enough restful sleep is essential to cognitive function. Try to get seven to eight hours each night and follow a regular sleep routine. Talk with your doctor if you are not getting enough sleep, sleeping poorly, or think you may have a sleep disorder. Conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea can cause problems with memory and thinking.
  6. Maintain social connections. Staying socially engaged supports brain health. In addition to keeping your mind sharp, it also helps prevent isolation and loneliness, which are linked to higher risks for dementia. So make it a point to pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you like singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or just enjoy activities with friends and family.
  7. Drink less alcohol. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much in one sitting can damage your heart, causing and worsening conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, memory loss, and mood disorders. It’s recommended that men shouldn’t have more than two drinks per day and women shouldn’t have more than one. Also, watch your portion sizes. A standard-sized drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor.
  8. Don’t smoke. Evidence shows that smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline, but quitting can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked. At any age, quitting can improve your health and lower your risk of not just stroke, but also heart attack and lung disease. For resources to help you quit, including live chat with a specialist, go to

“10 ways to love your brain,” Alzheimer’s Association (
“Working out can change your brain for the better. Among other benefits, it can improve memory and reduce the effects of strokes,” Insider via Microsoft Start (, November 12, 2022
“7 things you can do to prevent a stroke,” Harvard Health Publishing (, May 15, 2022
“Can I prevent dementia?” US Department of Health and Human Services (