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25 ways to protect your brain health

Did you know that making simple lifestyle changes sooner rather than later can help you lower your risk of dementia? Here are some tips on keeping your brain healthy in your 40s, 50s and beyond…

Currently there are 944,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this number is expected to increase rapidly, partly because we’re living longer. But, according to 2020 Lancet research, up to 40% of dementia cases could be down to lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, social isolation, obesity and high blood pressure that may be in our control to change. What’s more, Alzheimer’s Research UK data shows that only one in three of us thinks it’s possible to influence the risk of dementia.

The charity has developed its Think Brain Health campaign (see below) to help us understand that looking after our brain health doesn’t need to be complicated. While we can’t change the biggest risk factors for developing dementia, such as age and genetics, we can take positive steps to lower our remaining risk.

“It’s never too early and never too late to start thinking about your brain health to reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life,” explains Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Dementia is diagnosed when the symptoms are very clear and evident in the person that is affected by the disease. Yet, these symptoms are the last stage of the disease because the early signs that define the condition are silent and usually start decades before symptoms appear.

“We launched our Think Brain Health campaign to raise awareness about what can be done to reduce your risk,” she adds. “Our tips can help people of all ages, but research suggests they are especially beneficial if you start thinking about them in your 40s and 50s.”

Living with dementia and seeking a diagnosis can be a very difficult and lengthy process for individuals and their families. There is also concern that there could be cases that we aren’t aware of as people avoided seeking help for health issues during the pandemic.

“There is a worry that we will see a spike in the number of people with dementia in the years to come because they were not diagnosed on time,” says Dr Imarisio. “We also know that isolation, lack of interaction and lack of exercise are all strong co-factors of increased risk of developing dementia, and of progressing dementia in people who have already developed the disease,” she explains.

Three simple rules

The 'Think' Brain Health Campaign has created three simple rules to protect your brain health. 

1. Love your heart 

What’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. “Having low cholesterol, not smoking, eating well, drinking responsibly and keeping active is important for your heart and it can help to lower your risk of developing dementia too,” advises Dr Imarisio. “When your heart is working optimally, your blood flows with more power and blood is the main source of nutrients and oxygen for the brain.”

2. Keep connected 

“Maintain a connection with the outside world as interacting with others helps to engage your brain,” says Dr Imarisio. “Any way that helps to maintain social connections and avoid isolation is great as isolation can lead to depression, another factor that’s linked to the development of dementia.”

3. Stay sharp 

“Carry out activities that are linked to your job or your interests – this will guarantee that your brain is always engaged,” explains Dr Imarisio. “It’ll also help to exercise the capacity of your brain to think and be agile in its reasoning.”

Get your brain fired up with these 25 simple tips: 

  • Dance a little every day. Put on your favourite song and move to the beat. Being physically active doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym!

  • Puzzle yourself with Wordle (or Sudoku or a crossword in your morning newspaper). Give your brain a daily workout by attempting to solve the riddle.

  • Take the plunge and learn a new language. It’s easy to learn with a language app such as Duolingo.

  • Learn to cook something new. Why not try a different cuisine tonight?

  • Make new plans with old friends. If you haven’t seen treasured friends for a while, arrange a catch-up.

  • Stub it out. Smoking accelerates ageing of the brain so why not download the NHS Quit Smoking app?

  • Fancy a game? Playing board games, card games or getting all the family together for a quiz night is great for staying sharp.

  • Go less sweet with what you eat. Cutting back on sugar is great for both your heart and brain health.

  • Hop off a stop earlier. If you regularly take public transport to work, try getting off before your usual stop.

  • Cut back on salt. You can add flavour using herbs and spices instead.

  • Give your home a spring clean. Housework is a great way to keep fit.

  • Invite your neighbour over for a natter. Why not pop the kettle on and chat over a cuppa?

  • Refresh your regular route. If you enjoy a daily stroll but find you tend to stick to the same route, mix it up!

  • Exchange your cocktail for a mocktail. Reducing how much you drink is sound advice for everyone. For delicious mocktail recipes, visit Drinkaware.

  • Have a hobby? Join the club! If you love to read, why not seek out like-minded people and join a virtual or in-person book club?

  • Darn it yourself. Why not learn to knit, sew or cross-stitch?

  • Swap deep-fried for stir fried. Try cooking more regularly by grilling, steaming or stir-frying.

  • Can you dig it? Being green-fingered is great for your mental health, reducing stress and improving mood.

  • Get your hearing checked. There may also be a link between hearing loss and dementia risk. Use RNID’s online hearing check to test yours.

  • Don’t press the button, take the stairs. Incremental exercise such as taking the stairs instead of the lift is a fantastic way to build in more physical activity.

  • Would you like a hand? Helping others through volunteering also benefits your mental health.

  • Bend over backwards for your brain. Gentle exercise such as yoga, pilates and tai chi is a real tonic for both your physical and mental health.

  • Pick up a pen (or a paintbrush). Get creative by writing a letter, starting a daily journal or trying your hand at painting.

  • Start your own DIY project. The trick to staying mentally sharp is to do something you enjoy.

  • Turn your stroll into a stride. Make your amble a brisk walk instead. Your heart (and your brain) will thank you for it!

Need support?

With the numbers of people being affected by dementia rising, more and more families are needing support to get diagnosis and support.

Available from the first day of membership, Benenden Health’s Care Planning and Social Care Advice Service can provide help to families experiencing dementia and other special needs.

The service provides access to a specialist care planning advisor who can provide information and advice about adult social care issues, including talking through the financial, legal and practical aspects of arranging short and long term care. The service also provides guidance for children and adults with special needs including autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities.