Formula for keeping your brain in shape

(NBC) - The riches of the golden years are all too often stolen.

As we age, our chances of being afflicted with dementia go up dramatically and it can creep up on you.

"Maybe your memory is not quite as sharp as usual, your problem solving skills are not quite as good but you're still functioning perfectly well," Dr. Miles Hassell, an integrative medicine expert, explains.

It doesn't have to be that way. Doctors say there are ways to protect yourself starting now, beginning with diet and exercise.

"A daily exercise program is probably associated with a 40 percent decrease in dementia," Hassell says.

Food can help, too.

Hassell says eating a Mediterranean diet can cut your chances of developing dementia by 40 percent.

"More fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and healthy fats, fish, nuts, olive oil - and this pattern, for reasons that are not at all clear to us, seem to be associated with a lot less dementia," he added.

White flour and sugar have the opposite effect.

"In fact, you can give people a dose of sugar and show in the hours following a large sugar load a reduction in how well their brain works," Hassell explains.

And believe it or not, your brain works better if you belly up to the bar, but don't overdo it.

Hassell says five to seven drinks a week is just right and it doesn't matter which kind of cocktail, thanks to the ethanol molecule in alcohol.

It thins the blood and acts as an anti-oxidant.

And last but not least, more exercise, only this time using your mind.

"Crosswords, mathematical puzzles, music, conversation, socializing all are an important aspects to preventing dementia, as well," the doctor said.

So here are doctors orders: Wake up, work out, have some fish and fruit, have a drink and strum yourself to sleep, now that you've learned to play guitar.

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