Doctor's Orders

Expert advice on maintaining muscle, heart, brain, skin, bones, and mind


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If, as they say, an idle brain is the devil’s workshop, then it’s interesting to note the idea (supported by recent research) that an active brain can prevent against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

We picked the brain of Henry Ford neurologist Dr. Rhonna Shatz, who explains: “There’s a network in the brain that’s constantly active. It takes a lot of energy, and it’s one that’s constantly reformatting as we add new memory. The more you know, the more you are physically building up more links. So anything that breaks down a link (like dementia) is going to have less net effect.”

Can you share some tips for maintaining a healthy brain?

Prevention is best. It’s important to avoid diabetes, because we know diabetes is one of the biggest things that can cause memory problems later in life. Another is stroke, and all the things that cause stroke are what cause a heart attack. So if you do the things that keep your heart healthy, you keep your brain healthy.

What’s the most common misconception about brain health?

[The] inevitability that as you get older you get memory problems. That really isn’t true. A group of people develops Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s not something that is part of aging alone. That’s important to note, because that means that there might be some things that can be done to prevent it.

What are some symptoms or warning signs to look out for?

If you’re finding that you are more distractible — that you constantly feel that in the middle of doing a task you’re forgetting what you’re doing. It may not mean anything, but it bears a checkup.

What about those in their 20s and 30s, who aren’t paying attention to their health. What advice do you have for them?

Get out there and move. Park far away and walk. Go up the stairs instead of the elevator. Do as much as you can to be physically active. Maintain your ideal body weight. Get that cholesterol checked. And be engaged. Besides this cognitive aspect of maintaining this network, there also is a very powerful set of genes that we have that have evolved for socialization.

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