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Steering clear of these pitfalls can help to preserve a stronger, healthier brain well into your golden years.

As we get older, our minds slowly but surely begin to lose their edge. At 50, your memory and quick-thinking aren't what they were at 20. At 80, it'll be even less so. But while a downward slope in brain health and memory support is as inevitable as aging itself, it doesn't occur evenly for everyone. You've probably met more than a handful of seniors in their 70s or 80s who can tell you stories about their childhood while you might barely remember what you had for breakfast.

There are certain lifestyle habits and risk factors that can influence just how much brain health may go down with old age. While you can't ward that off completely, steering clear of these pitfalls can help to preserve a stronger, healthier brain well into your golden years:

  • Living in smog or by highways: A new study published last month in Stroke linked prolonged exposure to air pollution to "premature aging of the brain." Additionally, the research team determined that living in close proximity to a highway significantly increased the amount of air pollution that might be absorbed into your bloodstream and lungs. This, in turn, decreases brain volume and increases risk for "silent strokes."
  • Shortchanging your sleep: It's easy to think that we can get by on five or six hours of sleep — after all, it's not that much less than the recommended seven or eight hours, and if you feel fine the next morning and get to work on time, no big deal, right? Unfortunately not so. While you may feel fine in the moment, there's an increasing body of evidence pointing to how even the smallest reductions in sleep time — even depriving yourself of that harmless one or two extra hours a night — adds up to higher risks of stroke, diabetes and impaired thinking. In fact, one study conducted in Singapore last year found that "sleeping less will increase the rate [that an adult's] brain ages and speed up the decline in their cognitive functions."
  • The "standard American diet:" That is, meals packed with sugar, saturated fats and processed food. These are all ingredients for impaired cognitive thinking and recall, which in turn leaves your brain more vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions. Instead of hitting the fast food restaurants, opt for a Mediterranean diet chock full of fish, whole grains and vegetables instead. Studies have shown that people who adhere to more Mediterranean-style diets can reduce their Alzheimer's risk by as much as 50 percent!

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