Written by Harvard Health

So how do you keep your brain healthy, stay cognitively fit, and build your cognitive reserve? It’s easier for some people than for others. And though genetics set the stage for your brain health, you can do something to improve your cognitive fitness.

First it is important to remember that you need a healthy body to have a healthy brain. Therefore, ensuring your brain health depends upon regularly seeing your doctor, following her or his recommendations, and managing any health conditions you have.

The heart of our cognitive fitness program, however, involves lifestyle changes. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified six cornerstones to any effective brain health and cognitive fitness program. Though we refer to them as “steps,” they should all be done together rather than sequentially:

Step 1: Eat a plant-based diet

Step 2: Exercise regularly

Step 3: Get enough sleep

Step 4: Manage your stress

Step 5: Nurture social contacts

Step 6: Continue to challenge your brain

Together, these can yield real results, leading to changes in both your brain’s structure and function. But the key word is “together.” These factors are equal parts of a cohesive plan—they don’t work in isolation. Simply eating more fiber or adding a morning walk to your routine isn’t enough to forestall mental decline. Instead, exercise, diet, sleep, stress management, social interaction, and mental stimulation work in concert to yield results.

Keywords: cognitive health, diet, exercise, stress