When it comes to memory, congnitive function, and overall brain health, age is relative. Believe it or not, it is never too late to start to incorporate changes that can make long-standing differences in our cognitive functioning.

While we may not yet have a cure or even understand all the causes for Alzheimer's and other profoundly disabling brain conditions, it's clear that there is plenty you can do to avoid abusing your brain. Here are some ideas for keeping your brain cells healthy and your thinking sharp and focused.

Better food = better brain function
It's possible to eat for your brain's health. Inflammation--yes, the same inflammation that can harm your body directly as well as raise your heart attack and stroke risk factors--can play a role in brain malfunction. A good rule of thumb is "If it's good for your heart, it's good for your brain."

Inflammation can often be addressed through your diet. To keep your whole body--including your brain--in optimal health, make sure your meals include these components:
- fruits and vegetables (for vitamins and fiber)
- nuts, such as walnuts and almonds (for monounsaturated fats)
- fish, such as wild salmon (for omega-3 fatty acids)
- olive oil, flaxseed, and avocados (for monounsaturated fats)

And I could not forget to add to the list chocolate, in 70% dark or pure cocoa form (for flavonoids). Just be wary of how you get your chocolate since baked goods are commonly packed with questionable transfats and artery-clogging hydrogenated oils.

Supplements to boost your brain and keep arteries clear
There is evidence that dietary supplements can be helpful in maintaining brain health. Keep in mind, though, that not all supplements are equally effective or equally safe. Make sure your daily multi contains these essential building blocks:
- B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folic acid
- vitamins C, D, and E
- selenium, magnesium, zinc, and CoQ10

Some herbal supplements may also be beneficial for heart/brain health. Among them are cinnamon (also useful for controlling blood sugar) and curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, curry, and mustards. Be wary of claims about gingko biloba. The jury's out on its effectiveness in brain health, and it can thin the blood.

Working out to build new neuropathways
Brain exercises? You bet! The saying "Use or lose it" applies to brain power as much as it does to muscle power.
- Do puzzles, games, and reading to increase cognition.
- Make a point of using your non-dominant hand in daily tasks.
- Use repetition, mental summaries, and associations to help you remember.
- Revive your body and brain by breaking up long stretches of desk work and other sedentary activity with--you guessed it--physical movement.

And speaking of exercise...
Maybe it's no surprise that focused exercise like yoga, aerobics, and tai chi keep your memory sharp. But did you know some of your other common habits and activities double as brain boosters if you add a mind-challenging twist? Try to
- Combine two activities, such as dancing and singing.
- Practice mindfully focusing on what you are doing (regardless what it is) in detail.
- Take different routes and change routines to keep sharp.

Reduce stress, the chronic brain drain
Stress can lead to inflammation, a precursor of decline in brain function. Learn to get a handle on stress.
- Meditation has been shown to have a positive effect on brain tissue.
- Listen to music.
- Use deep breathing to regain control and calm your response to stress.

Staying young starts with maintaining your brain health. We now know that the adult brain is not a static organ. What we do matters for our brain function. Use that knowledge to your advantage! Take another look at the tips above, and right now, choose a few new ones to adopt. It's well worth the effort because the steps you take to stay sharp, focused, and alert no matter what your age can have a whole-health effect. Your entire body will thank you.

Author's Bio: 

Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers. Ready to take that step? Call 212-686-0939, or visit online at RobertaMittman.com.