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Exercise your cognitive vitality

Just in case you can’t think of enough good reasons to exercise, here’s one more. And it’s a biggie.

Exercise - which increases blood flow and counters plaque in your arteries -significantly lowers your risk of getting dementia. Especially Alzheimer’s, a very scary kind of dementia that has no cure, affects 4.5 million Americans now and is expected to afflict 16 million of us in the coming years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org.

The opposite of mental decline is what aging experts call cognitive vitality. Without it, life as a senior becomes one big dribble down the front of your shirt. Not good.

At a recent Aging Conference organized by the American Geriatrics Society, medical experts looked at what, if anything, can promote cognitive vitality as we age.

Their discovery? You guessed it. Regular physical exercise takes us many giant steps closer to cognitive vitality as we age. Mental workouts, too: stuff like doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, playing bridge, learning Spanish. These activities that stimulate the brain and the body may help your brain stay young and sharp by prompting the production of important hormones and neurochemicals. This does not happen when you watch “Desperate Housewives.”

Exercise even contributes to neurogenesis, which involves the creation of new brain cells. Scientists used to think that wasn’t possible after your third date with a cheerleader - also known as adolescence - but now they know better.

Exercise actually spurs the creation of new blood vessels in the brain and encourages new connections in the brain cells. And that process - neurogenesis, your new word for the day - can continue into later life, if we make it a priority.

So use your brain. Start moving, especially if you are getting older, which all of us are. Find a fun way to exercise, and don’t stop until you die.

Five a day. That’s the mantra of a healthy eater. At least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. How to make that happen: blueberries at breakfast? A banana instead of a donut mid-morning? A big salad with chicken, beans or cheese for protein for lunch? Squash for dinner? An apple for dessert?

And so it goes, the daily necessity to fit at least five fruits and vegetables into every day. Taco chips do not count.

So the good news is there is a detectable shift. For the first time in nearly 15 years, Americans are actually eating more fruits and vegetables. It’s only an itsy-bitsy increase of about 1 percent between 2002 and 2004, say the people at the Produce For Better Health Foundation, the nonprofit group that commissioned the studies, but still, it’s something positive, something to be celebrated. Even better, the research found a clear link between awareness and consumption, and determined that the number of Americans who are aware of how important it is to eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies every day is growing significantly, from 40 percent of us in 2004 to 57 percent now.

But you can forget those numbers. The big one for you to remember is five, as in five a day. And if you really want a gold star, not to mention better health, choose a variety of fruits and veggies from a variety of colors. You may be color blind, but your body knows the difference, and it does best on a mix of colors. The five color categories are blue/purple, orange/yellow, green, white and red.

Want to learn more about how to feel in the pink? Check out the Color Way program on the very delicious Five a Day for Better Health Web site, www.5aday.org.

This and other mind-shifting bits of wisdom can be found in a smart new book by Dr. Gordon Livingston called “And Never Stop Dancing: Thirty More True Things You Need to Know.”

A few samples:

  • If you don’t have an activity in your life that causes you to lose track of time, you need to find something.
  • If you go to the doctor more than 10 times per year and you don’t have a terminal illness, get a new hobby.
  • To have television as one’s primary window on the world is almost unbearably sad.

When it comes to living a healthier, happier lifestyle, have you formulated any truths of your own? Please share.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.