One of the scariest aspects of aging is the realization that your brain can’t function as well as it used to—whether that means accidentally putting the car keys in the microwave or forgetting the name of a new grandchild, it can be daunting.
Most people will experience some form of “brain aging” in their life, ranging from fuzzy thinking to Alzheimer’s disease. Although some causes of memory loss are genetic, you can still improve your brain’s sharpness. The earlier you start, the better—just like losing weight, it is easier to prevent brain aging than reverse it. Here are nine ways you can stay mentally sharp:
1. Avoid sugar.
While short-term increases in sugar can temporarily improve brain function, chronically elevated sugar levels will impede your memory. In one study, people had their sugar levels tested and were asked to memorize 15 words and then repeat them 30 minutes later. Those with higher blood sugar levels remembered, on average, two fewer words.
2. Get fishy.
Eat 18 ounces of salmon or another fatty fish each week or take DHA omega-3 supplements every day. A study showed that when individuals 55 and older who were starting to lose their memory ingested 900 mg of DHA omega-3 each day, their brains were about three years younger.
Stress is one of the greatest causes of memory loss—brain inflammation caused by stress weakens old memories and makes new connections for establishing memories more difficult.
4. Have buddies.
Data shows friends do more than help you cope with your problems. They can also keep you motivated and hold you accountable for activities such as exercising or learning new skills together.
5. Work it out.
You should engage in physical activity for 45 minutes three times a week. New data suggests intense exercise for 20 seconds three times in a 10-minute period may be even better.
6. Don’t shortchange sleep.
When you’re busy, it’s easy to sacrifice ZZZs. But you need sleep because it primes your brain for optimal learning, problem-solving and memory retention.
Although diet and exercise changes are important, learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby, playing video games or even trying to find a new route (without a GPS) to a place you regularly visit can also help minimize your risk for memory loss.
8. Get those vitamins.
Take in enough magnesium, folate and Vitamins B-12, B-6 and D-3. Magnesium ensures strong links between your brain cells, which can help you solve problems. Try eating brown rice, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, shredded wheat, lima beans and bananas. Vitamin D-3 is also important—aim for 1,000 IU daily from a supplement until you have your number measured.
9. Avoid toxins.
These include tobacco, mercury and excessive alcohol, among others. Tobacco and other toxins such as mercury from swordfish and tuna can cause inflammation, which can impair your mood, memory and cognition.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.