Aging Is Just 30% Genetics

Aging is 30% genetics.  The rest is up to you, says The DANA Foundation, a global not-for-profit that raises awareness about the importance of brain research.  What are the best ways to keep your brain healthy?


Cardiovascular exercise has demonstrated specific improvements not only for an individual’s heart but for one’s brain activation as well.  The cardiovascular exercises deliver oxygen to the brain to help with blood vessel health.  One recent study found exercise outside in nature was even better for an individual’s brain than exercise inside. Was it because it is less repetitive and therefore bringing new and novel stimulation to the brain?  Or because of the calmness of nature to our souls?  Learn more at

Social Contacts

Socialization helps the brain stay active as it exposes us to new ways of thinking, different from our own.  Social connections help us feel supported and therefore less stressed.  Stress is a toxin for the brain long-term so we want to minimize negative input.

Eating Right

Diet is important.  The general guidelines for a heart-healthy diet are also good for your brain.  Since the brain is 85% water, hydration is especially important.  Drink water!


Rest to rejuvenate.  Rest is a special time during which the brain repairs itself.  Don’t shortchange your sleep time.  Get at least seven hours a night.

Although we have routinely heard more about exercise, diet, sleep and socialization, no less important for your brain health is mental stimulation.  The goal of brain training is to make new neural connections or strengthen old ones.

Mental Exercises

Stimulate, stimulate, stimulate at all times.  Find new and novel ways to do familiar tasks.  Drive a new way home, cook something new, spend time using a new computer app.  Explore activities that you have never tried before.  If you’ve never been to a poetry slam, check one out.  If you haven’t yet tried yoga – what are you waiting for?  Find tasks that are at least moderately challenging, as these will help you make new connections.  If you have worked crossword puzzles for years, doing yet one more will not have the same positive effect on your brain because you have already become an expert in this area. People who have multiple talents – renaissance people – are keeping their brains sharp.

Try some of these mental games:

When you are a passenger in a car:  Read a sign you see aloud (i.e. Time Warner).  Quickly see how many words you can make out of the letters in the sign.  In this case, you could think of war, wart, warm, warmer, win, tar, tree, me, eat, ate, at, it, are, ear, tear, rare, rim, mite, mart, near, were, went, ant, met, meet, meat, team, neat, raw, ten, tin, arm, wear, twine, wine, rat, near.

How many ways can you think to use some common objects?  Good problem solvers can think of many alternatives.  Ways to use a tire….on a car, as a swing, to pot plants, make a sandbox, cut up and use to make black tar, hold a tarp down with, use in an obstacle course,  practice spinning, use in abstract art, use to edge a garden.  How could you use a newspaper or a sheet?

Pull the coins out of your pocket.  Mentally add them up.  Put them back in your pocket and in a few minutes, from memory, name the  type and amount of coins you have – for example,  2 quarters, 4 dimes, 3 nickels and 4 pennies.

Benjamin Franklin said, “We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.”  So keep trying new things and pushing your skills to keep your brain playful and strong.

Cell Phones and Studying

I get more questions from parents about cell phones than other topic: Should I let my child have her phone on while studying?  Are cell phones addictive?

There’s no research on cell phones and addiction.  Scientifically speaking, we don’t know if teens can become addicted to their phones or not.

However, I have strong personal feelings and observations about cell phones.  TV, music and cell phones going off during study time can all be distractions, but I find the cell phone is the worst, because it engages the emotions and requires a response. This is especially true during the teen years, when students are easily distracted.

A cell-phone free hour during study time is in your children’s best interest.  If your teen is planning a joint project with a friend, then yes, allow the phone.  But if students are reading, highlighting or writing papers, they are better off using a desktop or laptop computer.  I have seen kids who really can’t turn their phones off, and that concerns me.  I’ve seen children miss meaningful experiences because they were texting the whole time.  After working at a Level 1 trauma hospital, I’m also worried about teens driving while texting.

If your child already owns a phone, teach her how to use it so it helps and not hinders her development.  And if your child doesn’t already own one, put off that purchase for as long as possible.