5 Dementia-Preventing Brain Longevity Tips For People In Their 40s
It's always a good time to support your brain longevity (aka brain span), but if any decade is the pivotal moment to lean into habits that promote cognitive health and help protect your brain from dementia, it's your 40s.
After decades of monumental life transitions through your 20s and 30s (College! Starting a career! Getting married!), chances are you've slowed down (or at least settled down) a bit during this phase of your life. As a woman, your 40s also come with a drop in estrogen levels that can impact your brain health (and dementia risk) more than you realize.
Protecting your brain in your 40s (and beyond)
You might not have as much energy as you did in your 20s and 30s, so nurturing your brain to support its ability to pay attention, recall memories, learn and process new information, and more is vital.
Generally speaking, 40-something is when our brains start to feel the impact of the lifestyle choices we've made throughout our lives. If you haven't established foundational health habits yet (e.g., exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, and managing daily stress), you may be feeling it more in your brain and body during this phase of life.
What’s more, cases of early-onset dementia (i.e., diagnoses under the age of 65) are on the rise. According to data from the 2017 BCBS health index, early-onset dementia diagnoses in U.S. adults increased 373% for ages 30 to 44 and 311% for ages 45 to 54 between 2013 and 2017.
While it’s never too early to start taking care of your brain, evidence suggests your 40s are a critical time to start leaning into dementia-preventing habits.
How perimenopause affects brain health
For women, this phase of life can be especially challenging mentally and emotionally thanks to perimenopause. After decades of menstrual cycles (and maybe a pregnancy, or a few) post-puberty, your hormones are shifting to prepare you for menopause. With this comes hormonal changes that can have a profound impact on your cognitive functioning and overall brain health.
During this transition, many women experience hormonal brain fog—i.e., clouded thoughts, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating—thanks to decreasing estrogen and progesterone levels leading up to menopause. This phenomenon can be downright discouraging, as it affects cognitive functioning in a palpable way. (For specific tips to reduce mental fogginess and promote mental clarity and performance during perimenopause, check out this article.)
According to neuroscientist, nutritionist, and associate director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., the drop in estrogen levels, specifically, can do more than just increase the likelihood of brain fog. In this mindbodygreen podcast episode, she explains how reproductive hormones play a massive role in protecting our brains from the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease and other damage that contributes to neurodegenerative diseases.
"The interactions between the brain and the reproductive organs are really crucial for brain health and brain aging—especially in women. We tend to think of testosterone [and] estrogens as involved in reproduction, having kids. But in reality, these hormones have a lot of effects inside our brains,” Mosconi says.
These reproductive hormones push neurons to bring glucose and make energy—thus, if your hormone levels are high, your brain energy is high. “But then what happens to testosterone is that it doesn't quite decline that much over time; whereas for women, estrogens pretty much plummet when women go through menopause,” she explains. "If you think of these hormones as having some kind of superpowers for the brain, women lose the superpower around the time that menopause hits, right? And the brain is left a little more vulnerable.”
How to support your 40-something brain
According to neurologists and directors of the Alzheimer's Prevention Program at Loma Linda University, Dean Sherzai, M.D., Ph.D., and Ayesha Sherzai, M.D., the most important thing you can do in your 40s to promote brain longevity and nurture cognitive function is strengthen your executive function skills (i.e., processing, problem-solving, cognitive flexibility, etc.).
This means not only playing complex games (think crossword and jigsaw puzzles, card games, and chess) but also engaging in soul-fulfilling activities. "It becomes exponentially more important to challenge the brain around your purpose as you get older," Dean previously said on the mindbodygreen podcast. "We say, 'Don't retire—rewire. Reconnect.'"
Here are some ways you can strengthen your executive functioning skills and promote brain longevity in your 40s (and beyond!):
- Take a comprehensive brain health supplement with research-backed ingredients. Nootropic supplements contain specific nutrients, bioactives, and botanicals that help support and strengthen executive function skills, bolster memory, and enhance focus to bolster overall brain health and longevity. For example, the neuronutrient citicoline has been clinically shown to improve cognitive impairment while the little-known, neuroprotective botanical kanna has been found to support executive functioning by increasing brain-wave frequencies associated with attention, memory, and stress resilience.
- Pack your diet with brain-supporting foods. Packing our plates and stocking our cabinet with foods and targeted supplements rich in essential micronutrients and phytonutrients (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D3, and polyphenols) can help keep our brains in tiptop shape throughout our life span. After all, longevity nutrition is a real thing.
- Maintain a regular exercise routine. Moving your body (in any way that feels good to you) is great for your brain. From increasing blood flow to your brain to regulating a healthy mood, adding intentional physical activity to your day can seriously support cognitive functioning.
- Develop a mindfulness practice. Whether you take up a structured mindfulness activity (e.g., meditation, journaling, or yoga) or simply carve out time to sit in nature and reflect, giving yourself time to just be is crucial for stress management. (And a stress-free life is a healthy, happy one!)
- Find a hobby that brings you joy—and do it often! Activities that both challenge your brain and make you genuinely happy are vital for a long, healthy life, Dean Sherazi explains. "Managing a team, book clubs, card games, learning to dance, music, taking classes at any age... It should be about more complex things that you enjoy," he says.
Your 40s are a pivotal time for your brain health. Adding brain-supporting, dementia-preventing activities to your routine during this decade of your life will help promote longevity of the mind, body, and spirit for years to come.
Whether you decide to take a daily supplement for brain longevity, add more fatty fish to your weekly meal plan, or join your community's garden club, your brain will thank you for supporting it—today, and down the road.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.