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Memory a Matter
of Brains and Brawn
Mental, Physical Exertion Needed to Preserve the Mind
By Lauran Neergaard

The brain is like a muscle: Use it

or lose it.
That is the growing conclusion
from research that shows fogged
memory and slowed wit are not
inevitable consequences of
getting old, and there are steps
people can take to protect their
Mental exercise seems crucial.
Benefits start when parents read
to tots and depend heavily on
education, but scientists say it is
never too late to start jogging the
gray matter.
People have to get physical,
too. Bad memory is linked to
heart disease, diabetes, and a
high-fat diet-all risks that
people can counter by living
healthier lives.
In fact, provocative new re
search suggests these brain
protective steps, mental and
physical, may be strong enough
even to help influence who gets
Alzheimer's disease.
"There are some things that,

if you know you have a

family history (of
Alzheimer's) and you're just
20 to 30 years old, you can
start doing to increase your
protective factors," said Dr.
Amir Soas of Case Western
Reserve University Medical
School in Cleveland.
It is also good advice for the
average baby boomer hoping to
stay sharp, or the mom priming
her child for a lifelong healthy
Most important: "Read, read,
read," Soas said. Do crossword
puzzles. Pull out the chessboard
or Scrabble. Learn a foreign lan
guage or a new hobby. "Any
thing that- stimulates the brain to
think," he said.
And cut back on television,
Soas insists. "When you watch
television, your brain goes into
neutral," he said.
Just a few years ago, scientists
believed the brain was wired
forever before age 5 and that
over the ensuing decades, a
person irrevocably lost neurons
and crucial brain circuitry

until mental decline became

Scientists now know the brain
continually rewires and adapts
itself, even in old age; large
brain-cell growth continues into
the teen years; and even seniors
can grow at least some new
What keeps brains healthy?
Clues come from Alzheimer's
Numerous studies show people
with less education have higher
risks of Alzheimer's than the
better-educated. Lead re
searcher Mary Haan of the Uni
versity of Michigan found less
than a ninth-grade education a
key threshold; other studies sug
gest a difference even between
holders of bachelor's and mas
ter's degrees.
It's not just formal education.
Reading habits between ages 6
and 18 appear crucial predictors
of cognitive function decades
later, said Dr. David Bennett of
Chicago's Rush University.
-from the San Francisco