Why are some people sharp as a tack at 95 years old, while others begin struggling with mental clarity in their 50s?
A lot of it has to do with genetics, but certain lifestyle factors also play an important role in how our brain ages. So while you can’t control your genes, you can take advantage of the latest science and avoid these seven big brain mistakes:
Mistake No. 1: Eating a standard American diet
Foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats and processed foods — i.e., the typical American diet — can wreak havoc on your brain over time. Studies have shown that excess sugar consumption can impair learning and memory, and increase your vulnerability to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Some scientists have even referred to Alzheimer’s as “Type 3 Diabetes,” suggesting that diet may have some role in an individual’s risk for developing the disease.
A Mediterranean-based diet, on the other hand, can help protect the brain from signs of aging and ward off cognitive decline. A recent study showed that following this type of diet — which is a good source of brain-healthy nutrients and includes a lot of fish, healthy fats, whole grains and vegetables — could slash Alzheimer’s risk by up to 50 percent.
Mistake No. 2: Living next to a highway
Living in a smoggy city might be bad news for your brain. According to research published this month in the journal Stroke, exposure to air pollution is linked with premature aging of the brain.
The researchers found that people who lived closer to a major highway had greater markers of pollution in their lungs and blood, which increased their risk for a form of brain damage known as “silent strokes,” or symptomless strokes. Increased pollution volume was also linked to decreased brain volume — a major sign of aging.
Mistake No. 3: Drinking a few evening cocktails
Don Draper’s daily cigarettes and two-martini lunches might seem glamorous on “Mad Men,” but research suggests that they’re a fast track to neurodegeneration.
It should come as no surprise that excessive drinking and cigarette smoking at any stage of life can have a negative effect on the brain, damaging brain tissue and leading to cognitive impairment. Alcoholism can cause or accelerate aging of the brain.
But just a couple of glasses of wine a night could pose a risk to brain health, even though there are some cardiovascular benefits. A 2012 Rutgers University studyfound that moderate to binge drinking — drinking relatively lightly during the week and then more on the weekends — can decrease adult brain cell production by 40 percent.
“In the short term there may not be any noticeable motor skills or overall functioning problems, but in the long term this type of behavior could have an adverse effect on learning and memory,” one of the study’s authors, Rutgers neuroscience graduate student Megan Anderson, said in a statement.
Mistake No. 4: Giving in to stress
Living a stressful lifestyle may be the worst thing you can do for your health as you age. Chronic stress is known to shorten the length of telomeres, the sequences at the end of DNA strands that help determine how fast (or slow) the cells in our body age. By shortening telomeres, stress can accelerate the onset of age-related health problems…