Just because your brain can't hop on a treadmill doesn't mean it can't exercise, says Dr. Majid Fotuhi.
"Through physical and mental activities, people can keep their brain and memory in good shape and ward off Alzheimer's," he says.
Fotuhi, the director of the Center for Memory and Brain Health at LifeBridge Health Brain and Spine Institute, is the co-author (with Will Shortz of The New York Times) of a book about how crossword puzzles can keep your brain active (we liked the book so much, we made him one of our Most Intriguing Baltimoreans of 2007).
Now his work is being profiled in a Maryland Public Television special called Fight Alzheimer's Early with Dr. Majid Fotuhi, premiering April 8. On the program, Fotuhi shows how physical activity, like the tango dancing that he demonstrates with his wife, can "cross-train" your brain.
"When you dance, practically the entire brain becomes active," he says. "You're using balance, coordination, spatial orientation, and memory all at once."
Moreover, the special explains how physical exercise improves blood flow to the head, releases healing proteins, and can actually increase the brain's size (though never quite reaching the height of the five-foot scale model that Fotuhi developed).
Fotuhi also explains that stress damages short-term memory, so it is important to practice meditating and remain calm in high-pressure situations. For example, he says that next time you are sitting in infuriating traffic, instead of getting road rage, play some word games in your head to pass the time.
"Whenever you're thinking, you are sprouting synapses," he says. "That makes your brain much richer and denser."
The program also highlights certain foods that are high in antioxidants, like cranberries and spinach, which are important in brain growth and development.
"Memory is just one more skill that we have," says Fotuhi. "And just like a sport or anything else, you won't get good unless you work at it."