We’ve heard it all before — smoking can ruin your lungs, your teeth, and especially your breath. But can it actually damage your brain? Unfortunately, yes. According to a shocking new study conducted by scientists at London’s King’s College, smoking “rots” the brain by damaging memory, learning, and reasoning. That’s right: smoking can actually cause brain damage.

My parents always told me “Only the stupid kids smoke,” but who knew they meant that literally?

The scientists conducted their research by gathering 8,800 people over the age of 50 and conducting numerous brain and intelligence tests, such as teaching them new words and seeing how well they retained the information. These tests were done every four years beginning in 2000. The results found a “consistent association” between smoking and lower scores in the test. Additionally, overall risk of a heart attack or stroke was “significantly associated with cognitive decline.”

Basically, they found that if you have any history of smoking, high blood pressure or obesity, you are definitely at risk.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time these links have been reported. Another recent study conducted by scientists at Anhui Medical University in China found that exposure to second-hand smoke could actually lead to dementia.

That said, there is a bright side: we can actually take steps to prevent mental decline. According to Dr. Alex Dregan of King’s College London, a number of risk factors associated with accelerated cognitive decline “could be modifiable” and that this discovery “offers valuable knowledge for future prevention and treatment interventions.” It’s all linked to a concept called “neuroplasticity,” in which the brain actually regrows nerve endings and repairs itself, as long as the mind remains stimulated.

How can we keep our minds stimulated?
Through the years, scientists have recommended a few different options like doing crossword puzzles or reading books, but let’s face it – those approaches have become a little dated, and not everyone enjoys the same activities. This is why neuroscientists have been spending years developing better and more exciting activities for people who want to take that extra step to keep their minds healthy and focused.

There are several excellent options out there, but one that has been getting a lot of attention recently is Lumosity. Designed by a team of dedicated neuroscientists in conjunction with Harvard University, Lumosity is an online program that basically functions as an exercise regimen for your brain. If you’ve ever exercised, you know you don’t get results doing the same exercises over and over again. The brain works the same way. That’s why Lumosity is so effective—it gives users a training program full of fun games and challenges that constantly stimulate the brain, thus preventing further damage.

Whether or not you’re at risk sure to smoking, everyone can benefit from improving mental sharpness and focus before it’s too late.

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