5. Rate your plate
Brain-boosting foods don't have to be expensive. Grains like oatmeal, brown rice, barley and quinoa supply energy to the brain, which may boost learning. Nuts and seeds — including low-cost peanuts, sunflower seeds and flax — are loaded with vitamin E, which helps combat cognitive decline as you age.
Blueberries, cherries, raspberries and red grapes contain antioxidants to feed brain areas responsible for memory and learning (apples, bananas and oranges are also good). Spinach, tomatoes, onions and asparagus are vegetable standouts. And while salmon remains supreme, less expensive fish — also rich in omega-3 fatty acids — include tuna, sardines, anchovies and mullet.
6. Step lively
Elliptical, schmilliptical. Just walking briskly — no equipment necessary — cuts your lifetime risk of Alzheimer's disease by half. So does most anything else (including money-saving DIY gardening and housecleaning) that gets your heart pumping for at least 150 minutes per week, ideally for 30 minutes or longer per session. Why? Boosting heart rate improves blood flow to areas of the brain involved with memory, learning and decision-making. Hint: Studies find a walk in the park boosts energy, focus and well-being more than indoor exercise.
Take a free class at the local library. Volunteer. Make use of Facebook. Or just hang out with friends. Any of these no-cost activities reduces the risk of dementia and slows or prevents cognitive decline. Theory: Social engagement means mental engagement — talking or just being around others requires focus and attention to details (while combating loneliness, itself a risk for dementia), and some research suggests even brief but regular social engagement bolsters memory, self-awareness and the ability to not be easily distracted.
8. Brush and floss
For just pennies a day, good oral hygiene can help prevent gingivitis and gum disease. Most people know that inflammation in your mouth has been linked to heart disease; what's less well-known is that gingivitis has also been linked to several cognitive problems, including declines in memory and verbal and math skills. More serious gum disease boosts the risk of memory problems as much as threefold (plus factors into stroke, diabetes and heart disease).
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.