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The Best States for Your Brain

Congratulations to the Old Line State: Maryland has emerged as the state with the best brain health in the 2011 America’s Brain Health Index. Developed by National Center for Creative Aging, the index ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on 21 brain health indicators including diet, physical health, mental health, and social well-being. This is the second time the index has been calculated; the first one appeared in 2009.

In the 2011 report, Maryland edged out the District of Columbia, which slipped to No. 2 from its first-place 2009 ranking. Maryland took top honors because it experienced a decrease in Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths, and because residents consume a high amount of fish, a natural source of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is tied to brain and eye health. Residents of Washington, DC, came in second due to its high proportion of active readers – more than any of the 50 states.

The Brain Health Index was created by health experts including Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and creator of the RealAgeconcept, and Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness and assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The index was created as part of a national health education campaign called Beautiful Minds: Finding Your Lifelong Potential, aimed at encouraging adults in the second half of life to develop and maintain brain health. It’s sponsored by Life’sDHA, a supplement created by the nutritional products company Market Biosciences Corporation.

Wondering How Your State Stacks Up?

Here are the top 10 states in the 2011 index and the factors that give them a brain health advantage:

1. Maryland: Marylanders consume plenty of omega-3-rich foods, such as fish, and have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths.

2. District of Columbia: Residents of Washington, DC, are the top active readers and have a high consumption of healthy foods.

3. Washington State: The Evergreen State is among the top five states in consumption of DHA-rich fish.

4. Colorado: Residents of colorful Colorado consume a healthy diet and have a low incidence of diabetes.

5. Vermont: People in the Green Mountain State keep their minds engaged by reading and are active community participants.

6. New Hampshire: The state has a high level of mental engagement through game playing, and residents tend to consume healthy diets of fruits, vegetables, and fish.

7. Oregon: Oregonians are bookworms, fish lovers, and involved in their community.

8. Utah: Residents are active in their communities and have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

9. Maine: This coastal state has a high level of fish consumption, and reading is a popular pastime.

10. New Jersey: Despite what you’ve seen on the Jersey Shore, the Garden State ranks relatively high in education, and has a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

The states that fall at the bottom of the index are:

42. North Dakota: North Dakotans are active game players, but the state has a high prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.

43. Kentucky: Kentucky does boast a high level of religious activity, but is tied with West Virginia for unhealthy smoking habits.

44. Indiana: Indiana ranks high in education, but has many smokers and low fish consumption.

45. Tennessee: The Volunteer State does have a high level of religious activity, but has a high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths.

46. West Virginia: Another state with high religious activity, West Virginia has a large number of smokers and the second-worst diabetes rate in the nation.

47. Alabama: The state’s high involvement in religious activities boosts social well-being, but its residents’ brain health suffers due to a high incidence of diabetes and Alzheimer’s-related deaths.

48. Oklahoma: Oklahomans engage their brains through religious activities and playing games, but don’t consume many fruits, vegetables, or omega-3 fatty acids.

49. Arkansas: Arkansans are active game players and participate in religious activity, but they’re not big on reading and eating DHA-rich foods.

50. Louisiana: Up from the last spot in the 2009 rankings, Louisiana residents have a high incidence of diabetes and Alzheimer’s-related deaths.

51. Mississippi: The Magnolia State comes in last place because of its high incidence of diabetes, low educational rankings, and low consumption of brain-healthy foods.