Cognitive decline and dementia aren’t the luck of the draw. You can reduce your risk.

In fact, the adult brain is much better at building new neural pathways and even creating new neurons than was previously thought. So if you want a healthier brain, try developing new habits.

For example, spend time with people who challenge you mentally. By middle-age, your brain has developed millions of networks of neurons, and those pathways are strengthened every time you recall information. That allows you to solve, say, a math problem faster than younger people. However, if you always use the same well-worn routes, your brain is less-likely to get the stimulation it needs to develop new networks.

You can get that sort of stimulation from what psychologists call a “disorienting dilemma.” Something that shakes up your thinking. So, try having regular conversations with people whose opinions differ from your own. Considering their point of view will help keep your brain strong.

Then, think about nothing. Studies of Buddhist monks gave the first glimpses that mediation can help change brains for the better.

There’s evidence that as little as 30 minutes a day of meditation can increase gray matter density in areas of the brain associated with learning. So sit quietly, breathe deeply, and focus on the moment and nothing else.

Of course, you know exercise helps. That’s because exercise of any kind increases blood flow, supplying more oxygen to cells in the brain. And exercise lowers blood pressure – which enhances cognitive function.