Monday, April 25, 2011

Simple Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp, Healthy

From a glance at the magazine stands, Americans appear obsessed with losing weight, cutting their cardiac risks and seeking to improve their odds against cancer. But where’s the focus on brain health?

The brain always has been mysterious and many people seem to believe little can be done to keep it sharp or to reduce its risk of injury and disease. Too many of us think it’s a matter of our genes or happenstance as to what occurs with memory loss, brain tumors, strokes and other disorders of the brain.

This may be true to some extent but the same might also be said of heart ills and many cancers. And while there may be familial predispositions, this doesn’t diminish the need to take steps to improve health and reduce risk.

Keith L. Black, M.D., chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, says Americans can do more to keep their minds sharp and brains healthy even as they age. His suggestions include: the simple and obvious (wear a helmet for sports); the simple and less obvious (eat certain foods to properly fuel the brain); and the simple and more obscure (could your cell phone use affect your risk of brain tumor?).

The theme is “simple” – these are changes most people can work into their everyday lives. Examples include:

Find a puzzle and solve it. The brain appears to respond to “exercise” – challenges that help keep it nimble. Whether games and puzzles help delay onset of dementia is the subject of debate and research. But people who keep busy with activities they enjoy – knitting, learning languages, reading – seem to have less memory impairment in later years. Hard scientific evidence may yet come; keeping your mind active through “play” and activity certainly won’t hurt in the meantime.

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