Brain Health Healthy Aging 10 Strategies to Boost Your Cognitive Health and Fight Brain Aging By Joel Fuhrman, MD Joel Fuhrman, MD Facebook Twitter Joel Fuhrman, MD, is a board-certified physician focused on nutrition and natural healing. He's a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 10, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Medically reviewed by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, is an award-winning physician-scientist and clinical development specialist. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print 1 Maintain Favorable Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels Many older people are surprised to learn that there are common risk factors between heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. But if you think about how the vascular system supplies blood to the brain, it makes sense that impairment of blood flow could lead to brain tissue damage. The small arteries of the brain are sensitive to elevations in blood pressure and long-term hypertension can injure them. Several studies support the connection between blood pressure and brain health. Higher blood pressure correlates with poorer cognitive performance and damage to brain tissue. According to long-term studies, the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia is more than doubled if systolic blood pressure is in or above the range of 140-160 mmHg. Cholesterol plays a role in the formation of amyloid-beta plaques, damage characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and elevated cholesterol levels are thought to increase the production of amyloid-beta plaques. 2 Check Your Vitamin D Level Low levels of vitamin D are linked to cognitive impairment. Vitamin D is involved in memory formation. Several studies have associated vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk of cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults. The optimal level of vitamin D is between 30 and 45 ng/ml. In addition, the vitamin is involved in regulating glucose and calcium transport to and within the brain, and may also protect cognition by reducing inflammation and increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters. 3 Take the Brain-Supporting Supplements Omega-3 DHA and Vitamin B12 Maintaining sufficient levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in the brain is an important measure for preventing neurodegenerative diseases later in life. Studies have shown that higher intake and higher circulating omega-3 DHA is associated with larger brain volume and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The risk of vitamin B12 deficiency increases with age, about 20 percent of adults over age 60 are either insufficient or deficient. B12 deficiency causes problems in the brain, including confusion, depression, and poor memory. A deficiency in this important vitamin has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Since your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age, and the vitamin is not present in plant foods, it is wise to supplement. Plus, the RDI is insufficient for flexitarians, vegans and the elderly. 4 Limit Your Consumption of Red Meat and Other Animal Products Copper and iron are essential minerals present in large amounts in red meat; these minerals accumulate in the body over time and in excess, they can harm the brain. Instead, they can be obtained in non-dangerous amounts through healthier options such as sesame and pumpkin seeds, edamame, and other beans. Excess copper and iron both contribute to oxidative stress in the brain and are involved in amyloid-beta plaque formation in the brain. 5 Focus on Whole Plant Foods A good rule to follow is to have 90 percent or more of your diet be whole plant foods, meaning vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A diet higher in these foods and low in meat and dairy is associated with a 36 percent decrease in Alzheimer’s risk. Make sure your diet is rich in natural, healthy plant foods, and add more raw vegetables to your diet by eating a large salad as your entrée at least once a day. Add beans, tomatoes, raw onions, and a nut or seed-based salad dressing. 6 Eat Berries Frequently Phytochemicals found in vegetables and fruit may help to alleviate oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, leading to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Berries, in particular, have been singled out for their protective effects on the brain. Several different berries have been found to slow or reverse age-related declines in brain function in animals. Blueberries and pomegranates have shown promising results in human studies, suggesting that these phytochemical-rich foods may help to improve memory in older adults. 7 Make Nuts and Seeds Your Major Fat Source Research indicates that nut consumption—walnuts in particular—may benefit brain function. Walnuts are rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acid ALA (precursor to DHA and EPA), and observational studies have linked higher walnut consumption to better working memory. Higher total nut consumption is associated with better cognitive function overall. 8 Avoid Salt in Your Diet High salt intake stiffens arteries and increases blood pressure, damaging the delicate blood vessels in the brain, impairing blood flow in brain tissue and increasing your chances of cognitive impairment. Season your foods with herbs and spices or try perking up foods with a splash of citrus or flavored vinegar or use a no-salt seasoning blend. 9 Stay Away from Added Sugars in Your Diet Excess sugar can impair your cognitive skills and also contributes to high blood pressure. High amounts of sugar cause dangerous elevations in blood glucose which can lead to blood vessel damage, and there is evidence that this damage contributes to a progressive decline in brain function. Even a single instance of hyperglycemia could be harmful, as slowed cognitive function and deficits in memory and attention have been reported. In addition, frequent exposure to high glucose levels likely diminishes mental capacity, as higher HbA1c levels have been associated with a greater degree of brain shrinkage. Instead, satisfy a sweet tooth with fresh fruit which will give you the added benefits of the fruit’s fiber and antioxidants. 10 Stay Active A balanced life helps improve overall well-being. Regular exercise has favorable effects on the brain at all stages of life. One likely reason is that during physical activity there is enhanced blood flow to the brain, and exercising regularly helps to keep blood vessels healthy. In adults over age 60, physical fitness is associated with better memory, cognitive function and reaction time. Exercise also helps brain tissue produce more mitochondria, responsible for cellular energy production. High levels of physical activity are associated with a significant reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk. Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Association of Mediterranean diet with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Alzheimers Dis 2014, 39:271-282. Barnes JN. Exercise, cognitive function, and aging. Adv Physiol Educ 2015, 39:55-62. Gu Y, Nieves JW, Stern Y, et al. Food combination and Alzheimer disease risk: a protective diet. Arch Neurol 2010, 67:699-706. Hamer M, Chida Y. Physical activity and risk of neurodegenerative disease: a systematic review of prospective evidence. Psychol Med 2009;39:3-11. Tan ZS, Harris WS, Beiser AS, et al. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology 2012, 78:658-664. By Joel Fuhrman, MD Joel Fuhrman, MD, is a board-certified physician focused on nutrition and natural healing. He's a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.