While you’re working out to get that buff body, don’t forget to exercise your mind.

Like a muscle, your brain can grow stronger with the right nourishment and training.

Advances in technology have enabled scientists to explore the brain as never before — and they’re making bold discoveries. The new thinking is that our brains are malleable and capable of building new connections between nerve cells, even as we grow older.

“We had these assumptions for a long time that your brain was fully formed and shaped in late adolescence,” said Glenn Smith, a neuropsychologist at the Mayo Clinic who specializes in Alzheimer’s. “Then … it was all downhill from there.”

But much has changed: “There is evidence that what we call neuroplasticity — the ability to shape the brain — persists into later life,” Smith said.

With that in mind, here are five ways to pump up your brainpower.

 

BRAIN AEROBICS

If you’re righthanded, try brushing your teeth with your left hand. Take a different route to work. Shower with your eyes closed. For the truly bold: Walk backward. Doing “neurobics” — performing routine activities in a different way — forces your brain to avoid operating on autopilot. This builds new branches of brain cells, according to the late neurobiologist Lawrence Katz, who championed the idea. Those new branches add to the computational reserves in your brain.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Eating blueberries helps protect the brain from stress that causes memory loss. They may also make you smarter — sort of. Animal studies show that the blue wonder fruit kick-starts the brain’s learning capacity and motor skills. Walnuts, loaded with vitamin E, also hold brain-boosting powers by supporting the growth of healthy neural tissue. They’ve been linked to better performance on memory tests, concentration and information-processing speed.

 

MIND GAMES

Want a better brain? Make a game of it. An explosion of mobile apps touts the benefits of brain-training puzzles. As we age, the rate at which we can process new information slows, Smith said. “At 25, you can probably run the length of a football field at a certain speed. At 65, you’ll be a lot slower,” he said. But if you were to practice running it, then you wouldn’t be as slow. The popular app Lumosity has a memory game that flashes a picture of an open suitcase packed with assorted goods. The user must then try to repack the suitcase in the same way it was displayed.

 

Energy DRINKs

Here’s a no-brainer: Drinking coffee makes you more alert. The trick is not to overdo it, or you’ll wind up in a major brain fog. But moderate caffeine consumption helps the brain to focus. Caffeine is a stimulant, hence the jolt. It also enables the release of excitatory brain chemicals — causing a burst of energy. To really sharpen your thinking, just add water. Plenty of it. Most of your brain is water, and when you’re dehydrated it shrinks. Recent findings suggest that this leads to poor planning and a loss of other “executive function” skills.

 

GIVE YOUR BRAIN A REST

One of the most important things you can do is get plenty of Zs. A basic human impulse, sleep allows the brain to sort through information it’s been accumulating all day. Poor sleepers don’t consolidate memories well. “It’s exactly why the student who crams and pulls all-nighters may be able to ace the test but a month later can’t tell you anything about what they learned. They would have been better off to study at a steady state and sleep on it.” □