There are five crucial steps to help your brain thrive, says Lorraine Jarvi, ďBrain FitnessĒ teacher at Relationships First Counseling, Training and Consulting in Medford, including exercise, diet, stimulation, sleep and hydration. Following are some tips to keep your brain in the game:

1. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain, enables you to use glucose and oxygen more efficiently and helps your brain shield itself from toxins. Consistency (minimum half-hour a day, preferably every day) is important. Be flexible, using different activities ó yoga, hiking, weights ó and use the one that fits best with your schedule that day.

2. Neurological health and flexibility of brain cells demand a good diet, and that means lots of fresh vegetables, especially leafy greens and also fruits (organic when you can get them), complex carbs like whole-grain breads and cereals, peas, beans, rice. Keep proteins lean and steer toward poultry and fish. Broil, boil, poach and roast instead of frying (it creates carcinogens). Eat foods with Omega-3 fatty acids (a big anti-oxidant brain food), such as trout, herring, tuna, salmon, walnuts, Brazil nuts, tofu, flaxseeds, olive oil, and canola oil. Good antioxidant produce includes prunes, raisins, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries, and kiwis. Good supplements for brain health: vitamins E and C, taken together, ginko biloba, alpha lipoic acid, wine (1-2 glasses, 2-3 times a week), co-enzyme Q10, phosphatidylserine and, if family history of dementia or hysterectomy with ovary removal, take estrogen.

3. Stimulation of the brain is critical to keeping its synapses firing into advancing age. Use it or lose it, and that means new, challenging activities such as crossword puzzles, learning a language, playing an instrument, taking up a physical activity that demands lots of mind work, including fencing or racquetball. Perhaps the easiest and best is reading, but donít just read it; use it. Brain activity that isnít put to use in other ways is diminished. So, join or start a book club, write a review of your book and put it on the Internet, describe the plot to friends and discuss what you would do in those same circumstances. Write your memoirs. Keep a journal and write, not just what you did today, but what you thought and felt.

4. Sleep enough, never less than 7 hours a night, with 8 to 10 being optimal. Go to bed early. Theyíve discovered that the prefrontal cortex, the busy site of organizing, planning and remembering, does most of its recharging between 10 p.m. and midnight. For best sleep, keep a consistent schedule, sleep in the same place, screen out noise and disruptions, put the clock where you canít see it from your bed, skip food, alcohol and exercise near bedtime, avoid long naps in daytime, have a pre-sleep ritual, like bathing or reading, and if you canít sleep, get up and do something boring.

5. Drink lots of water, at least two quarts a day. Itís critical for brain functioning because the brain uses more water and is made of more water than any other organ. Carry a quart of fresh, pure water with you all the time. It gets you in the habit of sipping all the time. Itís also vital for digestion and every other body function.

Lorraine Jarvi can be reached at