If you are in your 40s and suspect your memory is already slipping, stress could be the culprit.

A new study found that forty-somethings who had high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their bodies also had reduced brain volumes and lower cognitive performance.

This study–unlike many prior studies of cortisol’s effect on the brain–specifically targeted middle-aged men and women. Participants did cognitive testing, a brain MRI, and a fasting morning blood sample.

Those with the highest levels of cortisol had the worst performance on visual perception, executive function and attention tasks. They also had a more difficult time retaining information.

The study also found that women tended to have higher cortisol levels than their male counterparts.

I know that stress is pervasive and unavoidable. Things like personal conflict, work responsibilities and financial uncertainty are part of the human experience.

So what can you do about it?

Over the long term, women’s stress levels tend to naturally decrease with age. However, here are a few suggestions how to proactively manage your stress today:

There are so many ways to help yourself lower your stress levels. Do it for your peace of mind, and for your future brain function.

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