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Brain Exercises Help Prevent Dementia

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More than four million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a devastating condition that destroys a person's memory.

But simple mental exercises and activities can help keep your brain in shape, and help keep dementia at bay.

"It is not red.. or it is small."

It may look like a simple parlour game, but this kind of activity could help you ward off dementia. That's the finding of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers looked at whether engaging in a variety of activities, from reading books to doing crossword puzzles, could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

They found that those who were most active mentally reduced their risk of dementia by more than 60 percent. Even doing just one activity a week reduced the risk by seven percent.

The researchers are not quite sure why this is, but think it may be something as simple as use-it-or-lose-it. Just as physical exercise keeps our muscles strong and healthy, so mental exercise keeps the brain in good shape.

The researchers also looked at whether physical activities, everything from walking or swimming, to housework, can offer protection against dementia. The only activity that seemed to help was dancing, and researchers speculate that may be because dance music engages the dancer's mind.

What's encouraging about this study is that it suggests the brain is much more resilient than we once thought, and that even as we get older it is continually repairing itself -- and even creating new pathways in the brain.

That means staying mentally fit is as important to the length and quality of our lives as staying physically fit is.

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