A Healthy Mind

New study ranks Virginia 18th in brain health.

Healthy Brain
Photos courtesy of Vector pro/Shutterstock.com (brain, apple, bed, light bulb); Colorlife/Shutterstock.com (heart); leosapiens/Shutterstock.com (dumbbell); gst/Shutterstock.com (people).

New study ranks Virginia 18th in brain health.

Carol Siegel swims. She takes walks. She practices yoga five times a week. She also teaches classes to senior citizens at Alexandria’s Arts for Aging program, and when she was in her 50s, she went back to school for a masters in art history. Siegel, who has brown cropped hair and a dusting of wrinkles, is 75 years old.

Carol Siegel has a Beautiful Mind.

Last year, the National Center for Creative Aging, in conjunction with the wellness company life’sDHA, named Siegel one of the country’s Beautiful Minds, an award that recognizes those 55 and older who keep their brain in shape through eating a heart-healthy diet, staying socially connected, physically active and mentally engaged.

America’s Brain Health Index, a study released in March by the companies behind the Beautfiul Minds campaign, ranked Virginia 18th for residents with healthy brains. Over the past five years, they’ve evaluated citizens across all 50 states and the District on 21 factors—diet, physical health, mental health, social well-being—proving that the brain doesn’t stop developing with age.

Virginians’ high consumption of fruits and vegetables, and relatively high education, helped raise the state in ranking, up from the 22 in 2011. Dr. Majid Fotuhi, founder and chief medical officer of Maryland’s NeuroExpand Brain Center and author and advisor to the campaign, says Virginians’ low consumption of DHA-fortified foods, what he calls “the best brain food,” is holding citizens back.

“Northern Virginia is rich in all opportunities, educational activities, nature—it’s heaven on earth—[and] should be number one.”

Since our bodies can’t make DHA—algae is the major source of the omega-3 fatty acid—we need to consume it through fish or DHA-enriched supplements. “DHA is the building block of the brain,” says Fotuhi, and recommends a daily dose of 900mg.

However, it isn’t only older adults who can benefit from the four simple steps to keep a healthy brain. According to a 2009 study by University of Virginia’s Thomas Salthouse, a professor and the study’s lead investigator, tests show that top cognitive performance happens around age 22, with some slowness being shown just a handful of years later, and average memory decline being seen at age 37.

While the brain is not a muscle, it can be strengthened like one—keeping an active lifestyle and eating healthy foods, especially those containing DHA, the mind can stay in shape. / beautiful-minds.com –Lynn Norusis

(June 2014)