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Smart tips for brain health

  • Dr. Allan Bernstein prunes an apple tree in the yard of his Sebastopol home, on Tuesday, January 15, 2013. Dr. Bernstein, a neurologist who is leading an alzheimer study in Sonoma County, prunes the trees to stimulate his mind in a relaxing environment. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Neurologist Allan Bernstein exercises his brain these winter mornings by pruning his apple trees in Graton. That and an occasional game of tennis and "walking down the driveway to get the newspaper, and then again to get the mail, working in the chicken coop and walking the dog."

Exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy brain, said the brain doctor who is currently involved in a large Alzheimer's disease research study.

"Exercise lowers your blood pressure, protects the blood vessels," he said. "And going for a walk, doing something outside where you're also getting Vitamin D, is better than getting on a StairMaster and watching TV."

A popular international lecturer on brain health and a regular speaker with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Sonoma State University, Bernstein is sympathetic to brain worries, especially among baby boomers and beyond.

Blank on the name of a neighbor and you think Alzheimer's. Forget the security code for your bike lock, the name of your dog's vet, you think Alzheimer's.

Starts in 50s

"It's an age-related phenomenon," Bernstein said.

"It usually starts in your 50s, when you can't get a word or a name. It's when you say, wait a minute, what's wrong with me?"

"Most of that comes from overload," Bernstein said. The older you are, the more you've stuffed into your brain.

He does add, reassuringly, "Growing old doesn't necessarily mean you will develop memory loss. Normal aging is that you maintain all your mental faculties."

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