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3 Steps to Take Charge of Your Brain Health

The secrets of the human brain are being unlocked at an exciting pace. We now have the first FDA-approved medication to fundamentally alter the biology of Alzheimer’s disease. In the next decade, it’s possible we will have vaccines to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by decades.

While pharmaceutical research opens an incredible new future for us, the tried-and-true advice about health is proving to be just as relevant as ever.

“Exercise, diet and keeping your brain active are still the best ways to not only improve brain function today but also reduce the risk of developing dementia in the future,” said Aaron Ritter, M.D., the Larkin Family Endowed Chair in Integrative Brain Health and director of the Memory & Cognitive Disorders Program at Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute.

Sounds simple enough. But Dr. Ritter warns that it’s easy to fall prey to false promises.

“Because our brain is our most precious possession—holding all of our memories, dreams, and thoughts—it can sometimes be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what’s truly beneficial for our brain health from what’s simply slick marketing,” he said.

Dr. Ritter’s advice? Keep it simple.

Exercise. Take at least 6,000 steps and get 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily.

“One of the most important things we can do to keep our brain healthy is exercise. Exercise does a lot of important things: It increases blood flow to the short-term memory centers of the brain (called the hippocampus), promotes the brain’s release of healthy chemicals (neurotrophic factors and endorphins), and helps clear the brain’s waste products,” Dr. Ritter said. “In fact, exercise is the only intervention that has been shown to definitively improve brain function in people with very mild memory problems (called mild cognitive impairment).”


Diet. In with the whole grains, fruits and vegetables; out with the processed sugars and saturated fats.

“A number of well-conducted research studies are clearly demonstrating that our diet directly impacts our brain health,” Dr. Ritter said. “Most research supports the finding that the Mediterranean diet is most beneficial when it comes to reducing our risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.”



Supplements. Beware of expensive, brain-boosting supplements that seem too good to be true. If you can’t get all the required omega 3s or B12 from your diet, invest in a simple daily multivitamin or omega 3/fish oil supplement (2,000 mg with DHA/EPA).

 “Most people don’t realize the reason there are so many brain-health supplement advertisements is because it’s an unregulated market—meaning advertisers can say almost anything without proof,” Dr. Ritter said. “The studies that have been done show largely that most supplements don’t survive the acidic environment of the stomach and almost never actually get into the brain. For that reason, most of the supplements we take will pass quickly and harmlessly out of our body.

“There are other important contributors to brain health, including getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining social connections,” said Dr. Ritter. “But I consider these three steps as the minimum daily requirements for maintaining a healthy brain.”

To learn more, talk to your primary care physician or visit and, which are part of Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute.