By now, most of us have heard about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle to help your heart and your body. But keeping fit and eating right can also boost your brain power.

Research is showing that what you do in your younger years can go a long way to ensuring your mind stays sharp well into retirement.

Lynda Browning, a retired teacher, has had to make some changes in her life recently. Her mother had a form of vascular dementia and suffered several strokes. But it wasn't until Browning herself was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and then type 2 diabetes, that she started to change her diet and exercise plan.

"When I found out I had type 2 diabetes that was the last straw," says Browning. "I started thinking about mom, and about what she had gone through, and I thought maybe that's going to be my scenario as I age. And it really made me stop and take a second look at my life."

Browning has good reason for taking a second look at her life. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and obesity have all been linked to dementia later in life.

Dr. Carol Greenwood, a senior scientist with Toronto's Baycrest -  a global leader in providing innovations in aging and brain health - has studied the link between a healthy lifestyle and brain functions. "When we start to get into dementias that develop later in life, we know the genetics are probably 40 per cent of the risk, and the remainder of the risk is lifestyle. So, the older you are when the older you are when you develop dementia, it's more likely you've developed out of lifestyle exposure."

Dr. Greenwood says eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains can go a long way to prevent dementia. Exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping your mind active are also key factors - but only if you act before it's too late.

"What we know, there's a lot of seniors out there living extremely healthily into those retirement years and having a ball. We could be there too if we were making the right choices in our 40's and 50's," says Greenwood.

Browning says she regrets not making those choices earlier in life. But now that she's changed her lifestyle, she has no plans to stop. "I'm much more determined because I think I have realized my life is at stake."