Changes to your body and brain are normal as you age. However, there are some things you can do to help slow any decline in memory and lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Here are five things I recommend to my patients in order of importance:

1. Exercise regularly

The first thing I tell my patients is to keep exercising. Exercise has many known benefits, and it appears that regular physical activity benefits the brain. Multiple research studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

We believe these benefits are a result of increased blood flow to your brain during exercise. It also tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occur during aging, in effect reversing some of the problems.

Aim to exercise several times per week for 30–60 minutes. You can walk, swim, play tennis or any other moderate aerobic activity that increases your heart rate.

2. Stay mentalli active

Your brain is similar to a muscle — you need to use it or you lose it. There are many things that you can do to keep your brain in shape. So incorporate different activities to increase the effectiveness.

Don’t watch too much television, as that is a passive activity and does little to stimulate your brain.

Here are some ways to use your brain every day, from the Alzheimer’s Foundation:

3. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet will help keep your brain healthy, and help your heart, too. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and cold-water fish like wild salmon.

Choose healthy fats that come from plants –– polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil –– instead of saturated fats that come such foods as cheese.

Consider adding these brain-healthy foods to your menu:

4. Socialize

Humans are wired to be social –– even those of us who are naturally introverts. We’re learning that new experiences and new friends –– and old friends –– do more than enrich your life.

Research shows that an active social life helps reduce your risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The theory is that social connections help keep the connections between your brain cells (neurons) strong.

If you’ve been neglecting your social life, here are some ideas to jump-start it:

5. Sleep & Relaxation

REST WELL. Sleep energizes you, improves your mood and your immune system, and may reduce buildup in the brain of an abnormal protein called beta-amyloid plaque. Practicing meditation and managing stress may help fend off age-related decline in brain health. Stay positive. Be happy.