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40 Ways to Boost Brainpower After 40

Stay sharp, fight cognitive decline, and live healthier with these brain boosting tips!

There are plenty of things to relish about getting older, from the appeal of a salt-and-pepper head of hair to that sweet AARP discount. However, for those suffering from cognitive impairment, each passing year can mean unexpected and unpleasant changes.

According to the CDC, 12.6 percent of households polled by the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System had at least one adult who experienced memory loss or increased confusion in the year prior to the study. This could mean that, worldwide, hundreds of millions of adults are at risk for accidents, injury, or even death if their cognitive issues aren't addressed.

While this may sound scary, the solution could be easier than you think. Research suggests that easy lifestyle changes, from increasing your physical activity level to eating more vegetables, can help stave off cognitive decline as you age, preserving your memories and keeping you mentally agile well into your golden years. Start adding these brain boosting habits to your routine today and, when you're ready to make healthy living a priority, cut the 20 Foods That Age You 20 Years from your menu!

Add Some Tomatoes to Your Food

Cooked tomatoes

Tossing some tomatoes on your salad could be the key to maintaining your cognitive function as you age. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, nutrients that researchers at the University of Ulm in Germany have found in insufficient supply among many Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Make tomatoes part of your regular meal plan by adding some to one of our 20 Best-Ever Fat Burning Soups!

Season With Cilantro


If you're one of the fortunate few who don't find cilantro soapy-tasting, you're in luck. Research published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture reveals that mice given ground cilantro in addition to their normal diet had increased memory retention, with improvements corresponding proportionally to the amount of cilantro they ate. Even if you're not sold on cilantro, you can start making every meal healthier by stocking up on the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen!

Make Salmon Your Protein of Choice


Not only is salmon a satisfying way to load your diet with low-calorie protein, it's also great brain food. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals that elderly study subjects who regularly consumed fish were less likely to experience cognitive impairment than those who abstained.

Serve Some Spinach

Spinach leaves

Your mom wasn't joking around when she said eating veggies would keep you healthy. Iron-rich greens, like spinach, are great for preserving muscle as you age and loading your diet with critical nutrients, like vitamin C. Even better, researchers at Sweden's Lund University have linked healthy gut bacteria, like that achieved through a diet loaded with prebiotic vegetable fiber, to reduced Alzheimer's risk.

Grab Some Cherries

Bing cherries

Skip the refined sugar and make cherries your dessert of choice instead—your brain will thank you. Cherries are a great source of the antioxidant pigment resveratrol, which has been linked to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Take a Nap

Couple sleeping

Feeling foggy? Try hitting the hay for a few minutes. Not only can napping keep fatigue from impairing your focus, researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that napping improved study subjects' memories.

Add Some Heat With Chili Pepper

Chili pepper

Give your recipes some heat and give your brain a major boost in the process. Capsaicin, the compound that gives hot peppers their signature spice, has been linked to reduced Alzheimer's-related changes in the hippocampus in animal test subjects. This might just mean that eating your favorite spicy food and enjoying a brain that's firing on all synapses go hand-in-hand.

Take Your Mental Health Seriously


Your mental health and your neurological health are more intertwined than you think. Researchers in Canada have linked major depression to increased risk of cognitive dysfunction and memory retention issues, so if you're feeling blue, make sure you seek help as soon as possible.

Ditch the Chips


We all know that fried foods aren't great for our body, but not everyone realizes the damaging effects they can have on our brains. Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that consumption of linoleic acid-rich foods, like chips, is positively associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment among older men.

Add Some Olive Oil to Your Recipes

Olive oil

Olive oil isn't just good for your heart, it's a serious brain-booster, too. According to a study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, monounsaturated fatty acids, a type of healthy fat found in olive oil, promoted the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus while reducing cell death among older animal test subjects.


Woman meditating

Seeking inner peace might be the first step toward a healthier brain. Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reveals that neurological circulation is improved by meditation, as is memory retention.

Drink Coffee

Black coffee

Your daily Starbucks run might just be keeping you cognitively fit. Research published in Nature Neuroscience reveals that caffeine increases memory consolidation, helping you stay sharp as you age.

Get Some Sunlight

Woman in sunlight

While few medical professionals would encourage baking in the sun, catching a few rays from time to time can make a major difference when it comes to the health of your brain. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the National Space Science and Technology Center have found that decreased exposure to sunlight was associated with a reduction in cognitive function, so make sure to enjoy some controlled sun whenever possible.

Add Dandelion Greens to Your Salad

Dandelion greens

Perk up a boring salad by adding some dandelion greens to the mix. Not only are these leafy greens loaded with flavor, they pack more than five times your daily RDA of vitamin K, a lack of which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease by researchers at the University of Montreal. Dandelion greens are also loaded with vitamins C, E, and folate, all of which have neuroprotective effects.

Crack Open Some Oysters


Oysters are so much more than just an aphrodisiac. In fact, these zinc-packed shellfish are a serious weapon in the war against cognitive decline. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition reveals that middle-aged and elderly study subjects given zinc supplementation showed significant improvements in spatial working memory after just three months.

Smile More

Couple smiling

Want a healthier brain as you age? Try smiling more. Research from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology reveals that senior study subjects who watched a funny video before a memory test reduced their levels of stress hormone cortisol and scored better than members of a control group.

Top Your Favorite Foods With Jalapeños


Give your brain a boost by adding some jalapeños to your favorite foods. Jalapeños are a good source of capsaicin, a compound that has been linked to a reduced risk of dementia in older individuals. Even better, capsaicin-rich peppers just so happen to top our list of the 40 Best Fat Burning Foods!

Say No to Soy Products

Soy milk

Skip the soy products and you might just keep your brain as sharp in middle age as it was in your 20s. Soy products are major sources of alpha linoleic acid, consumption of which the Zutphen Elderly Study links to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.

Start Your Day With Avocado Toast

Avocado toast

Enjoying some avocado toast at breakfast could be the difference between a healthy brain and an impaired one as you get older. In addition to its wealth of neuroprotective vitamins C and E, avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which research has linked to lower rates of brain aging. If avocado toast feels tired, try out one of these easy avocado recipes instead.

Eat Some Raspberries


Add some berries to your shopping list and boost your brainpower with every bite. Raspberries are loaded with resveratrol, which researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found effective at slowing the progress of Alzheimer's disease.

Practice Yoga

Yoga move

Namaste your way to a healthier brain by adding some yoga to your regular routine. Research published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reveals that older adults who did yoga demonstrated improvements in their memory post-practice.

Enjoy Some Grapefruit at Breakfast


Grab some grapefruit for breakfast and you'll set yourself up for a healthier brain. Not only has grapefruit consumption been linked to increased weight loss and satiety, researchers at Chengdu Military General Hospital in China have found lycopene, a carotenoid pigment found in grapefruit, effective at reducing the cognitive-impairing effects of a high-fat diet.

Dress For the Weather


Dressing warmly when the temperature dips can do more than keep you comfortable—it might just be the key to protecting your brain, as well. Research published in Ergonomics reveals that exposure to cold, even followed with warming periods, can decrease cognitive performance, so make sure you've got some cozy duds with you when the weather starts to get chilly.

Sprinkle on Some Flaxseed


Whether you're mixing them into a smoothie or adding some to your favorite baked goods, flaxseeds can make a major difference in your brainpower. Not only are flaxseeds a high-fiber food, meaning they can improve the beneficial bacteria in your gut that can affect your neurological health, they're also an easy way to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. When you consider that research published in the Journal of Neurotrauma has linked omega-3 consumption to improvements in cognitive performance following traumatic brain injury, you've got a pretty convincing argument for making flax part of your meal plan.

Lower Your Stress Level


If you've ever found yourself feeling less capable during times of high stress, you're not imagining things. Lowering your stress level is one of the best things you can do to preserve your brain function as you age. In fact, research published in Cell Press reveals that chronic stress diminishes the capacity of the body's glutamate receptors, reducing the function of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain whose function is inextricably linked to memory retention.

Add Some Cinnamon to Your Food


Sprinkling some cinnamon on your latte could be the first step toward a healthier brain. Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reveals that cinnamon consumption promotes neurological changes that can attenuate the effects of Alzheimer's disease on the brain.

Spend Time With Friends

Older couple

Getting together with members of your inner circle on a regular basis does more than just keep you up-to-date on gossip. Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center and the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago found that increased social activity helped reduce the rate of cognitive decline among older adult study participants, so pencil in a few coffee dates when you have the time.

Eat at More Regular Intervals

Man eating

One of the easiest ways to boost your brainpower is also the most enjoyable: have a snack. A collaboration between the CUNY Graduate Center and Tufts University found that college students who had a late-afternoon snack had improved cognitive performance as compared to their hungry counterparts. Need some healthy eating inspiration? The 40 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim will make you healthier from brain to belly.

Ditch Dairy

Cheese plate

Skip the cheeseburger and you might just protect your brain in the process. Researchers at Kyushu University in Japan have discovered a link between dairy consumption and dementia risk, so opt for non-soy dairy alternatives, like plant- or nut-based milks and cheeses instead.

Snack on Almonds

Raw almonds

Inexpensive, filling, and full of healthy protein, almonds are already a great choice when it comes to your physical health. Fortunately, they're just as powerful a food for your brain, too. Almonds are a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been linked to delayed brain aging, preserving your cognitive fitness.

Chew Gum

Chewing gum

Channeling your inner valley girl might just be the key to staying sharp in your later years. Research conducted by the British Psychological Society reveals that chewing gum improved concentration in memory-based tasks. Just make sure to steer clear of artificially-sweetened gum when possible; a study published in Stroke reveals a link between artificial sweetener consumption and dementia.

Move Your Body

Older woman yoga

Keep your body fit and your brain will follow suit. Even if you're not ready for a high-impact workout, even moderate exercise can help you boost your brainpower. In fact, researchers at the University of St. Thomas discovered that aerobic exercise of varying intensities was positively correlated with an uptick in memory retention.

Cut Out Corn Oil

Corn oil

Skip the corn oil and you might just have more good years to look forward to. Corn oil is a major source of linoleic acid, which is associated with cognitive impairments. Opt for MUFA-rich alternatives, like avocado oil or olive oil, and you'll be protecting your brain with every bite.

Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic

Dark chocolate

Go ahead, get dessert with that; your chocolate habit could make a major difference when it comes to your cognitive capacity. Dark chocolate is a good source of both resveratrol and iron, both of which have been found to have neuroprotective effects. Even sweeter, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that the consumption of cocoa flavonols boosts both cognition and circulation among the elderly.

Keep Learning

Older couple

While the thought of another paper or pop quiz can make anyone feel stressed out, continuing to learn new skills in a low-stress environment can help keep your brain sharp as a tack. A study conducted at the University of Texas at Dallas reveals that, among a group of 200 elderly individuals, those who spent 15 hours each week learning a new skill fared better on memory tests than those in a control group.

Enjoy Some Peanut Butter

Peanut butter

One of your favorite childhood foods could be the key to staying healthy later in life. Peanut butter is loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been linked to delayed cellular aging in the brain, and peanuts are also a surprising source of dementia-fighting resveratrol.

Switch to Grass-Fed Beef


Being selective about your meat is good for more than just your palate. Grass-fed beef contains more omega-3s per ounce than its traditionally-fed counterparts, helping you stave off inflammation-related neurological changes. Better yet, it's a great source of iron, a deficiency in which has been linked to cognitive impairments in the elderly.

Get Your Eyes Checked

Eye glasses

Keep your vision sharp and you'll keep your brain sharp, too. While many people assume that vision loss is part and parcel of the aging process, ignoring a decline in vision could wreak havoc on your overall health. Research published in JAMA Ophthalmology reveals a link between vision loss and cognitive decline, so make sure that checking in with your ophthalmologist is part of your healthy living routine.

Grab a Glass of Red Wine

Woman drinking wine

Drink to your health! Enjoying a glass of red wine from time to time can not only lower your stress level, the resveratrol in red grapes has been shown to have beneficial cognitive effects among Alzheimer's patients. Ditch the sugary cocktails and make healthier choices at the bar by opting for these healthy alcoholic drinks instead.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Bedroom at night

A good night's sleep is important for every part of your body, but its most noticeable effects are on the brain. An analysis of research conducted at Bradley University's Department of Psychology found that sleep deprivation negatively affected cognitive performance and mood in both the short- and long-term. Aim to get eight hours a night, and when you feel the need, take a nap for a quick burst of energy and improved mental clarity. A lack of sleep isn't just bad for your brain—it's one of the 50 Little Things Making You Fatter and Fatter!

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more about Sarah
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