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doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000387774.18197.f3
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Ten Pillars of Brain Wellness

Over the last 25 years, researchers at the Orr Center in West Des Moines, IA, have learned an enormous amount about aging successfully. This wisdom is summarized in the Orr Center's 10 Pillars of Brain Wellness presented here.

1. SOCIALIZE: The human brain needs to be with other humans. Volunteer, join a club, take a class, and put yourself in situations that require playing well with others.

2. EXERCISE: A number of studies have shown that moderate physical activity protects against cognitive decline. Even better if you combine physical activity with mental stimulation (think yoga, karate, or ballroom dancing).

3. REST: Yes, the brain needs active stimulation to stay in top shape, but it also needs rest and relaxation. Try to make at least one day a week largely stress-free.

4. MANAGE STRESS: Stress is a major contributor in the onset of many chronic diseases, and it can have a devastating impact on the brain. “We know that chronic painful stress can lead to shrinkage of the memory centers of the brain,” says Bob Bender, M.D., medical director of the Orr Center.

5. PRACTICE MODERATION: Especially alcohol and calories. (As for tobacco—abstain). And make sure the calories you do eat are nutrient dense. The more antioxidants in your diet, the better equipped you'll be to stave off disease.

6. SHARE YOUR GIFTS: Engaging in activities that you're good at boosts confidence and self-esteem. If these activities help others, well, that's just a bonus.

7. AVOID ACCIDENTS: Protect your head at all times by wearing seatbelts and bicycle helmets.

8. ESTABLISH A HEALTH CARE TEAM: When illness sets in, make sure you have a good medical team at the ready to get you back on your feet.

9. PRACTICE BRAIN WELLNESS: Read, write, do crossword puzzles, take a class, and learn new things—anything to help build reserves of brain cells.

10. GET SPIRITUAL: Meditation is just one of many ways people can achieve this goal. “Meditation changes the brain for the better,” says Dr. Bender. “We're only beginning to learn the many ways it does it.”

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