Many of us spend time worrying about our diet, how much exercise we’re getting, and how physically fit we feel. This is, after all, something that’s quantifiable thanks to the dreaded bathroom scales – and the mirror. Yet brain health, ironically, doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of our minds. How do we measure the health of our brains, and more importantly how do we sustain it?
America’s Brain Health Index is a research initiative funded by Life’s DHA (a company selling DHA-fortified foods and supplements rich in Omega-3’s), the National Center for Creative Aging (NCAA) and Adopt a Classroom. The report has been issued four years in a row now, and 2014’s results paint an interesting picture.
Brain health, as measured by this index, falls under four categories: Diet, Physical Health, Mental Health and Social Well-being. Citizens of the various U.S. states were measured on their consumption of fish and other DHA-rich foods and supplements, fruit and vegetable consumption and on the prevalence of breastfeeding. Measures of Physical Health in the study included obvious things like exercise, smoking, diabetes, sleep, and even health insurance. Mental health was measured according to factors like education, reading for interest, playing games, mental health days and Alzheimer’s-related deaths and Alzheimer’s prevalence. Finally, measures of social well-being included social and emotional support, religious and spiritual activities and community participation.
The relevant figures were researched and grouped. Point-scores were between 0-200, with an average per category of 100. These scores were then tallied and divvied up by category, by state and per capita, for the end results. It’s interesting to note is that while six of the top ten brain-healthy states are within a fairly close proximity of each other and some of them even border one another – while the remaining four are spread far and wide across the country. However, in the case of the ten least brain healthy states, eight of ten border on each other, and a ninth is only one state removed.
Somewhat controversially – given that an estimated between 5% and 10% of Americans are non-religious – the volume of religious or spiritual activity was employed as a measure of social well being in the study. However, the states who scored lowest on brain health are largely in the Bible belt, with very high scores in religious or spiritual activities. The same cannot be said for the states with the highest brain scores where, except for one, scores in this category were generally low.
So, where in America are the citizens best at exercising their brain? These 10 states are the most ‘brain healthy’ in America today.
At No. 10, Georgia is the only Southern state in the top 10 healthiest-brain states in the U.S. They score well on the sales of DHA-fortified foods and supplements, above average in fish sales, and have low incidences of both Alzheimer’s prevalence and deaths due to Alzheimer’s. Georgia scores about average in social and emotional support, sleeping, psychological distress and fruit and veg consumption, and lowest in playing games, reading for personal interest and diabetes. This state scores quite high in religious and spiritual activities – at 151/200 – and higher than any other of our top 10 states. In this study, high scores in religious activity did not correlate with high scores in brain health.
9. New Hampshire
A decline in social and community involvement and mental health caused this state to fall in brain health this year. New Hampshire has an extremely high score on fish sales, at 193, meaning the citizens are nourishing their brains with plenty of Omega 3. The state is also big on fruit and vegetable consumption, reading for personal interest and breastfeeding. Scores are quite good in education, low incidence of deaths from cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s prevalence, but they are lower on points in DHA-fortified food consumption, Alzheimer’s deaths, and religious activity – scoring only 40 points of a possible 200 in the latter category.
8. New York
The state that boasts the Big Apple is home to folks who eat their fruits and veggies. They also do well on the sales/consumption of DHA-fortified foods and supplements as well as fish rich in those Omega-3’s. With a low incidence of Alzheimer-related deaths, NY has raised their rank in brain health by eight, from 16th position last year. They show good scores in reading for personal interest and obesity levels, as well as having low numbers of smokers. NYC is known to be a pretty anonymous metropolis; this likely contributes to the numbers which show that citizens of New York state really could do better in community participation and emotional/social support, where they are below the national average.
This state is one of the highest scorers in reading for personal interest. They also score high in fish sales, fairly high in fruit and vegetable consumption, have a low incidence of diabetes and a lower incidence of smokers. They score poorly on buying DHA-fortified foods and supplements, psychological distress and the incidence of Alzheimer’s deaths. Above-average or average-range issues include breastfeeding, physical activity and obesity. This state, often seen as open-minded and fairly liberal, has the motto “freedom and unity.” Vermonters live by their motto to some extend; they score high for community and social support, below average for religious activities, but they’re not much at all for playing games.
6. District of Columbia
D.C. went from No.2 last year to No.6. Is this an indication we should worry about the waning smarts of those running the country? If so, what are they doing wrong (besides what’s in the news…)? They have good diets, with high scores in DHA consumption (fish, fortified foods and supplements), as well as fruit and vegetables. Their numbers are also good when it comes to physical activity, obesity levels and health insurance and they score particularly high in reading for personal interest. Where those in the nation’s capital need to be more attentive is in areas of cardiovascular disease deaths (stress?), playing games and religious activity, with a low score in the latter matching New Hampshire’s, at 40.
In fifth place, Alaska has very high scores in some areas (fish sales, Alzheimer’s prevalence or lack of, cardiovascular disease deaths and community participation) and has decent scores in most areas, including reading for personal interest. They score great on low numbers of Alzheimer’s-related deaths and a low prevalence. This state which does great overall could improve their score in sales of DHA-fortified food and supplements, and religious or spiritual activity.
This state had rose eight places in brain health in 2014. They scored well on physical activity, but are thought – by survey measures – to need more religious and spiritual activity. Their highest score is in fish sales/consumption, at 174 points. Also high are fruit and vegetable consumption, non-smoking, education, low incidences of diabetes and low incidences of Alzheimer’s-related deaths. They also have a lower incidence of heart-disease and keep themselves in health insurance, community involvement and reading for personal interest. This state which boasts the creation of the hamburger scores poorly on game playing and Alzheimer’s prevalence. Maybe increasing the former would improve the latter? Some studies have shown that playing games can, in fact, help fend off the onset of Alzheimer’s in old age.
This mountainous state scores well all around, with higher than average in 18 of the 21 categories of assessesment. They have no misses under diet, with high scores in both fish sales and DHA-fortified food sales, a good score in breastfeeding and above average in fruit and vegetable consumption. Under physical activity these folks score above average with generally high scores in everything but health insurance, which, like the next state coming up, comes in just one point below average at 99. Colorado has great scores in all aspects of mental health except playing games, which at 76 is the second-lowest score of all for these Rocky Mountain folks, with only religion – with a score of 67 – coming in lower.
Fish has a score of 195 in this state that boasts Seattle’s Pike Place Market and Fish Co. If you’ve heard of this place’s reputation, you’ll understand. Besides this phenomenally high score for the food rich in Omega-3/DHA, Washington also scores well in all other dietary categories. Under physical health they are above average in six of the seven categories, scoring one point under average (99) under health insurance. Washingtonians keep their minds alert playing games and reading for personal pleasure, and have a lower-than-average score on Alzheimer’s prevalence, but an unsurprisingly very poor corresponding score on Alzheimer-related deaths. Scores show that community is important to the folks of Washington, but not in the form of religious gatherings.
This little coastal state is consistently top-rated for overall brain health. Their best scores were under fish sales/consumption, a low incidence of Alzheimer’s-related deaths (related to those Omega-3’s?), DHA-fortified foods and supplements, low incidence of smokers, good fruit and vegetable consumption and reading for personal interest. Maryland also scored fairly well on things such as sleep, community participation, playing games and having good social and emotional support. They need to improve on their incidence of diabetes and, according to the survey, religious or spiritual activities. As with many of the highest brain-health scoring states, religion is the lowest score of all.