States that ranked high in the 2011 America’s Brain Health Index share some traits, such as good diets and higher levels of physical activity, and residents of the top states tend to be intellectually curious. "It's so important to have an intellectual passion and hobbies," says Cleveland Clinic chief wellness officer Dr. Michael Roizen. The Beautiful Minds campaign also highlights inspiring seniors who are putting their minds to good use by volunteering, teaching classes, writing novels, and even bodybuilding.
Roizen notes that many of the states in the South rank at the bottom of the list, which he attributes to unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, reflected in the high incidence of diabetes.
But Southerners don't have it all wrong: A positive brain health factor the Southern states share is a high level of religious and spiritual activity, which is a big boost for emotional health. "The benefit of believing in a higher being is that it will help you manage stress better," says Roizen. "Stress ages you more than any other factor." Several scientific studies have confirmed the benefits of religious activity: The Whitehall study of British civil servants, a major study on the health effects of stress, found that the participants who said they were more spiritual experienced less aging from stress and aged better. "Spirituality and religious practices may also help slow the regression of cognitive abilities caused by Alzheimer's disease," adds Roizen.
Check out the Brain Health Index interactive map for the full ranking of all the states.