2. Move it!
"Exercise is essential for anyone under chronic stress, and that includes most of us," says Epel. Exercise short-circuits the stress response by triggering the release of BDNF (brain-derived neuropathic factor), which nourishes cell growth, as well as endorphins (serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine), brain chemicals that boost feelings of well-being, ease muscle tension and improve sleep. (See No. 3 next page.)
Tip: The cognitive functions and brain regions showing the most significant decay in late adulthood are the same regions that may benefit the most from exercise, says Benjamin L. Willis, M.D., an epidemiologist at the Cooper Institute in Dallas and coauthor of a long-term study highlighting the importance of exercise in reducing dementia risk.
So don't procrastinate: Carve out 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise. Couch potatoes should start slowly — 10 to 15 minutes every other day, working up to 30 to 45 minutes, five days a week. After all, you're not competing in Olympic trials. Just walk briskly, jog, swim or bike — anything you enjoy doing that gets your heart pumping a bit faster and makes you break a sweat.
A study by Scottish researchers found that simply strolling through a green leafy park, as opposed to the concrete jungle of a busy city, actually lowers cortisol levels in the brain, easing "brain fatigue."
Don't forget resistance training (20 minutes every other day, using exercise bands or light weights) to boost muscle tone, balance and flexibility as well as your brain's gray matter. Never done any of that? You can sign up for an orientation class at a health club, but push-ups (on the floor, against a wall) and squats in your living room work, too.
Next page: Want to reduce your risk of dementia? Get more sleep. »