Losing your memory is not necessarily an inevitable part of life. Though genetics plays a significant role in whether people develop dementia, more and more research is showing that having a healthy lifestyle and staying mentally challenged may lower your chance of losing your memory and your mind.
Here are six lifestyle factors that will give your mind a boost:
1. Get Moving
A number of studies have shown that exercising, especially light exercise, slows the onset of memory loss and dementia. One study of older adults found that walking and doing other light activities like gardening preserved their memory longer than those who were sedentary. Another recent study found that exercise counteracts the brain shrinkage that occurs with age. While the older exercisers gained two percent of their brain volume, non-exercisers lost brain tissue.
The benefits appear to start accruing early. One study found that exercise in midlife significantly reduced the incidence of dementia three decades later. And another study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine looked at people in their 20s and found that young adults who followed exercise guidelines - moderate exercise five times a week for 30 minutes - had a better memory compared to those who didn’t.
2. Eat Fruits and Veggies
A recent study found that elders who ate a diet high in fruits and vegetables when they 30 years younger had lower risks of dementia. Oxidative stress and inflammation are thought to be involved in dementia. Fruits and vegetables contain loads of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may protect the brain against this damage.
3. Reduce Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors for heart disease, like diabetes, chronic stress, high cholesterol, and being overweight or obese have also been implicated in dementia. Some of these factors, like diabetes, are particularly potent if they arise in midlife, rather than later in life. So getting these risk factors under control through exercising and diet when you’re young may delay cognitive losses later on.
4. Get Culture
Participating in cultural activities and reading are also protective. A new study found that being open to new ideas can also delay dementia. Being open means you are curious, have a thirst for knowledge and are able to think creatively about new ideas. In contrast, closed individuals are more rigid in their beliefs and less emotionally involved with experiences.
“Individuals with higher openness are more actively engaged in cognitively enriching activities and these activities are protective of cognitive performance,” the study authors wrote.
5. Take Care of Your Teeth
Studies of twins have found that developing periodontal disease early in life is associated with a risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.
"Over three times more often, the twin with more tooth loss is the twin who develops dementia, and we find the same for Alzheimer's disease," says the study author Margaret Gatz,, of the University of Southern California.
6. Got a Difficult Job? Perfect!
The type of work you do may also protect you against cognitive decline. The research on twins shows that having a job that involves complex work with people—careers that involve persuasion, mentoring, instruction and supervision—is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. Working with complicated data also reduces risk.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.