The healthiest brains in America—state-by-state rankings

Brain health is closely tied to weight, activity levels

Thanks to its diet rich in fish and high rates of physical activity, Maryland ranks first in brain health on "America's Brain Health Index," which was created by the George Washington University-affiliated National Center for Creative Aging.

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For the report, each state's overall "brain health" is measured by how well it scores on a 21-point index on areas such as diet, physical activity, smoking, education, mental health, and general social well-being. Researchers also examined states' Alzheimer's disease prevalence, and its religious, spiritual, and community involvement.

According to the report, the 10 states that have the healthiest brains are:

1. Maryland
2. Washington
3. Colorado
4. Connecticut
5. Alaska
6. District of Columbia
7. Vermont
8. New York
9. New Hampshire
10. Georgia

The two lowest ranking states—Alabama and Mississippi—also had high rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as low rates of residents engaging in reading.

According to Majid Fotuhi, CMO at NeurExpand Brain Center, nutrition plays the biggest role in brain health.  "The bigger the belly, the smaller the brain," Fotuhi says, adding that the biggest deterrents to having a healthy brain include obesity, being sedentary, sleep apnea, stress, and concussions.

Meanwhile, exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, learning new things, and memorization stimulate the brain the most. Fotuhi says exercising for just three months can encourage the brain to grow new cells—a process called neuroplasticity. "Your brain is constantly changing almost from day to day…The more you do good things, the more likely it is that you will have a strong brain as you grow older," Fotuhi says. 

What not exercising does to your brain

"I feel frustrated when people feel helpless about their brain health," he says. "They should go for a walk, get together with friends, take supplements and have a healthy meal. Do the things that are healthy for the brain… The effects of your genes can be reversed" (Sifferlin, TIME, 3/11; Leonard, U.S. News & World Report, 3/10).

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