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We fear Alzheimer’s disease more than any other major life-threatening condition, including cancer and heart disease. While Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have a hereditary component, research shows that maintaining brain-healthy habits can have a positive impact in forestalling the onset of cognitive decline.

Here are six habits and lifestyle choices that are associated with maintaining brain health.

1. Get plenty of sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, your brain can’t operate at full capacity. Creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are compromised. Whether you’re studying, working, or trying to juggle life’s many demands, sleep deprivation is a recipe for disaster. But sleep is critical to learning and memory in an even more fundamental way. Research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, with the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep.

2. Eat a brain-healthy diet. A Mediterranean-style diet, which includes fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, unrefined grains and olive oil, has been associated with better brain health. Eating salmon, mackerel and other oily types of fish is especially beneficial, since they are high in omega-3 fatty acids that have been associated with a slower loss of brain volume in older adults.

3. Exercise. Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. During exercise nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning.

4. Keep your brain active. Research shows that people who frequently participate in mentally stimulating activity experience mental decline at a rate that is about one-third lower than those who have average participation in such activities. So, finish that crossword puzzle, buy a Soduku book or play a board game with your family, knowing that the mental stimulation is good for your cognitive health.

5. Interact with others. Experts note that social interaction keeps the mind engaged while also keeping boredom and depression at bay. Having stimulating discussions or just getting together with friends to share a laugh is a wonderful way to bring joy to your day while maintaining better health for your brain.

6. Maintain stimulating hobbies and activities. The Mayo Clinic Study of Aging found that individuals were able to stave off cognitive decline to some extent by picking up intellectually stimulating hobbies and activities in midlife and beyond. Among the hobbies and activities shown to have an impact were reading, playing a musical instrument and partaking in some form of arts and crafts.