"More and more research is suggesting that lifestyle is very important to your brain's health," says Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a neuro-psychologist and an adjunct associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "If you want to live a long, healthy life, then many of us need to start as early as we can."
So what can you do to beef up your brain - and possibly ward off dementia? Nussbaum, who recently gave a speech on the topic for the Winter Park (Fla.) Health Foundation, offers 20 tips that may help.
1. Join clubs or organizations that need volunteers. If you start volunteering now, you won't feel lost and unneeded after you retire.
2. Develop a hobby or two. Hobbies help you develop a robust brain because you're trying something new and complex.
3. Practise writing with your non-dominant hand several minutes everyday. This will exercise the opposite side of your brain and fire up those neurons.
4. Take dance lessons. In a study of nearly 500 people, dancing was the only regular physical activity associated with a significant decrease in the incidence of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. The people who danced three or four times a week showed 76 percent less incidence of dementia than those who danced only once a week or not at all.
10. Play board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly. Not only are you taxing your brain, you're socializing too. Playing solo games, such as solitaire or online computer brain games can be helpful, but Nussbaum prefers games that encourage you to socialize too.
11. Take classes throughout your lifetime. Learning produces structural and chemical changes in the brain, and education appears to help people live longer. Brain researchers have found that people with advanced degrees live longer - and if they do have Alzheimer's, it often becomes apparent only in the very later stages of the disease.
12. Listen to classical music. A growing volume of research suggests that music may hard wire the brain, building links between the two hemispheres. Any kind of music may work, but there's some research that shows positive effects for classical music, though researchers don't understand why.
15. Pray. Daily prayer appears to help your immune system. And people who attend a formal worship service regularly live longer and report happier, healthier lives.
18. Eat more foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, sardines, tuna, ocean trout, mackerel or herring, plus walnuts (which are higher in omega 3s than salmon) and flaxseed. Flaxseed oil, cod liver oil and walnut oil are good sources too.
19. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables mop up some of the damage caused by free radicals, one of the leading killers of brain cells.