Inside your skull sits the most complex organ of the body, and keeping it healthy throughout the rest of your life is of top priority. Investing in your brain’s health during your 20s and 30s gives you the best opportunity to live a long life. The way you eat, drink, exercise, sleep, manage stress, and play have a profound impact on your brain, which is why we turned to a leading neurologist for advice on how to decrease the risk of cognitive decline.

“It’s very important to begin healthy habits at an early age because you’re going to really need them when you’re much older,” Dr. Olajide Williams, the director of Acute Stroke Services at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, told Medical Daily. “You’re laying the foundation for the rest of your life and if you master these habits in your 20s and 30s and sustain it over the long haul, your longevity will be much more fruitful and you’ll be able to enjoy cognitive health for well into the end of life.”

5 Keys To A Healthier Brain

1. Sleep

“Developing good sleep sleeping habits and to accomplish at least eight hours of sleep every night is particularly important when you’re young,” Williams said. “It’s critical for your brain to reboot itself and get the necessary downtime it needs. When you deprive the brain of its sufficient sleep it manifests in a myriad ways that range from irritability, poor attention, all the way to impaired memory and learning.”

2. Exercise

“Young people are active, but they should be optimally active, which means getting into the habit of breaking a sweat every day when you exercise,” Williams said. “It’s really invigorating to the brain and one of the things that we have control over that can provide a substantial risk reduction in the development of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.”

3. Diet

“Consumption of certain foods are not good for cognitive health, particularly high-fat foods, high saturated fat-containing foods and high sugar, which we know can affect attention, impair learning and memory. Even though the brain is only 2 percent of the body’s entire mass, it consumes 20 percent of its energy [calories]. It’s very important to be cautious about what we eat and for us to nourish the brain and fuel it with the right nutrients to set the stage for healthy development.”

“While we need to be cautious with high-fat and high-sugar foods, be generous with the healthy options, which are found in the Mediterranean diet. It’s associated with an up to 50 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk and has also shown benefits for lowering risk reduction on stroke.”

4. Coping Skills

Williams warns: “Chronic stress is really not healthy for the brain and [it's] really important to develop coping mechanisms or see a mental health professional. Allowing your stress levels to run amuck can lead to adverse health consequences on the brain’s health. Then there are common sense things that can’t be good for the brain, like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.”

5. Brain Games

“The old adage ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ also applies to the brain. If you don’t exercise certain muscles for a period of time it begins to atrophy,” Williams explained. “If you don’t use your brain through exercises, you could trigger a cognitive decline. The good thing about being young and active is that it’s a time in life when you start a job and move from the stage of exams, SATs, college courses, and GPAs. Now you need call upon all of your cognitive skills and start applying this knowledge to the real world.”

“I think gaming is great; I love playing chess, for example. Some people make a habit of doing crossword puzzles, some people like Sudoku. There are many options to cognitively stimulating the brain, but I should point out watching movies is not cognitively stimulating because there’s no interactiveness in watching television. “

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