You can improve your memory, energy, productivity and general well-being throughout your entire life by developing everyday habits that are good for your brain…

  • Get exercise that requires quick movements. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, ensuring a healthy supply of oxygen and the nutrients on which the brain depends. Insufficient blood flow can lead to poor coordination and difficulty processing complex thoughts.
  • Exercise also increases the supply of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps with the creation of new cells.

    A recent study of people in their 70s found that those who exercised moderately or vigorously at least once a week were 30% more likely to maintain their cognitive skills than people who exercised less often.

    Any type of exercise is good, but the ideal exercise for a healthy brain combines an aerobic workout with complex movements requiring quick reactions. Examples: Dancing, tennis, table tennis, racquetball and juggling.

  • Eat berries, beans and salmon. Be sure that your diet includes…
  • Fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables fight damage from free radicals — unstable molecules that damage cells, contribute to aging and promote inflammation, which is a factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Berries are particularly rich in antioxidants.

    Complex carbohydrates — such as cooked dried beans and whole grains. The brain uses sugar as its main energy source. Complex carbohydrates release sugar slowly. In contrast, white bread and other refined starches and sugars cause dramatic spikes and drops in blood sugar, leading to concentration problems and fatigue.

    Cold-water fish. Any lean protein, including chicken and lean pork, helps build neurons. Salmon, cod and other cold-water fish have the added benefit of providing omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in maintaining nerve cell membranes. Other sources of these healthy fats are avocados, nuts and olive oil.

  • Boost vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in mood and memory. A recent study published in Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology found a possible association between dementia and low levels of vitamin D.
  • The best source of vitamin D is sunlight — at least 15 minutes a day without sunscreen. If you spend most of the day indoors or live in a northern latitude, take a supplement with 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily.

  • Avoid food additives, such as monosodium glutamate, and artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame. Though studies are inconclusive, anecdotal evidence suggests that these additives may have a hyperstimulating effect, causing confusion and/or mood swings.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol reduce blood flow to the brain, depriving cells of nutrients and energy. Both can interfere with sleep, which is essential to healthy brain activity.
  • Both also can be dehydrating — the brain is 80% water, so anything that dehydrates has the potential to cause problems in thinking. One or two cups of coffee or tea a day are harmless and enhance alertness, but heavy caffeine consumption — more than 500 milligrams (mg) to 600 mg a day, or about four to seven cups of coffee — should be avoided.

    Alcohol has additional dangers — it blocks oxygen from reaching cells’ energy centers and reduces the effectiveness of neurotransmitters involved in learning and memory. Heavy drinkers — people who consume four or more alcoholic drinks a day — have a higher risk for dementia.

    Some people drink wine daily because of evidence that it may be good for the heart. However, there are other ways to help the heart — such as exercise and diet — that don’t put the brain at risk. If you are accustomed to having a drink every day, consider cutting back to one or two drinks a week.

  • Avoid airborne toxins. Fumes from paint, pesticides and other chemicals have been associated with brain damage. If you are exposed to strong fumes — for example, while painting the interior of your house or having your nails done — be sure that the area is well-ventilated.
  • Don’t smoke, and avoid being in rooms where others are smoking. Oddly, smoking can make you feel smarter by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters that improve reaction reaction time, but nicotine constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow and depriving the brain of nutrients.
  • Don’t overdo electronic interaction. Computers, mobile devices and other electronic tools can interfere with optimal brain function in several ways. They have an addictive quality, stimulating release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which acts on the brain’s pleasure centers. Over time, greater amounts of dopamine are required to get the same pleasurable feeling.
  • E-mail and text-messaging can interfere with concentration, encouraging a state of mind that is alert to the next distraction, rather than focused on the task at hand. One study at London University found a temporary IQ loss of 10 points in people who constantly checked for messages during the day.

    Best: Process e-mail and text messages at set times of day, not as each message comes in. Take frequent breaks away from the computer.

  • Protect your skull. The brain is very soft. The hard skull that covers it has many ridges that can damage the brain during trauma. Yet people are astonishingly careless with this precious organ.
  • Take precautions to protect yourself from head injury. Stabilize ladders carefully. Use nonslip mats in the bathtub and shower. Keep the floor in your house and the pathways outside it clear of debris that could cause you to trip and fall. If you bicycle or ski, be sure to wear a helmet.

  • Manage stress. Long-term exposure to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol is associated with a smaller-sized hippocampus — the brain area involved with memory — and with poor performance on memory tests.
  • Cope with stress by finding daily activities that calm you, such as exercise, meditation, prayer or yoga. During difficult times, focus on what you are grateful for and talk things out with someone who can help you keep an optimistic perspective.