News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Texas ranks among the worst states for good brain health in recent study

Dr. Newsome says exercise, one of the study metrics, helps the brain with problem-solving, memory, and mental health.
Dr. Newsome says exercise, one of the study metrics, helps the brain with problem-solving, memory, and mental health.

The study from the health science company, Life ranked all 50 states for good brain health based on seven metrics:

Texas: No. 43 (overall)

  • Adults who exercise: 73.7% (#44)
  • Adults who eat fruit and vegetables every day: 67.6% (#40)
  • Adults who don't get enough sleep: 35.1% (#28)
  • Meditation interest score: 43 (#38)
  • Adults who read literature: 35.5% (#43)
  • Babies breastfed at 12 months: 36.9% (#27)
  • Children 5 or younger whose parents read to them every day: 25% (#51)

Dr. Donna Newsome, a neurologist with Texas Health Presbyterian Plano, told KERA’s Sam Baker how the metrics used contribute to brain health.

We all think about what's good for your body. We think of your heart, your lungs, your kidneys. But a lot of times, we forget about our brain.

We, as a society, are living longer than our parents’ generation. Maybe 20 years longer than what you can think of in the past. So you have to have good brain health to have a good, healthy living.


We know that helps the heart. Well, it also helps to bring the problem solving and your memory and your mental health.


We know what we're supposed to eat. Green leafy vegetables and the fresh fruits, the nuts, the good fats that you get from salmon and our chicken and fish. But what we do eat, and what we're supposed to do are two different things.


We need to have quality of sleep. You know, sleeping straight through the night without waking up with those stressors in your brain. This will help maintain your memory pathways and help your concentration in thinking.

So we know what we're supposed to do. It's just a matter of getting ourselves to do it.

Pleasure reading is one of the metrics used in this study. How does reading literature for fun help the brain?

Reading for fun helps to strengthen your memory and helps your language skills and literary skills. It helps your cognitive development.

And when you're reading, you're also stimulating the brain. If you're stimulating the brain, that means you're exercising the brain.

These things also can help decrease your risk of developing dementia as we get older.

Texas ranked lowest when it came to children five or younger, whose parents read to them every night. What is that about? Forming good habits early? Stimulating brains at a younger age?

Reading to your child not only helps them with their literary skills, it helps their language development as well, and all that helps with their cognitive development in the long run.

They hear those words. They hear those different languages. They hear those stories. It helps to get those neurons or the brain cells saying, hey, let's do some more.

So, since a child's brain is so young and so malleable, that's the best time to get those brains stimulated, even before they get teenage and adult years.

The study uses breastfeeding as one of the metrics. How does that relate to good brain health?

Well, you know, we emphasize over and over that breastfeeding is good to help the bond with the mom and the baby. It helps with the immune system and the antibodies from your mom. That one point is so true. But it also helps with cognitive development.

Now, the basic science behind all that I can’t address specifically, but it just helps with cognitive development, particularly if you have longer breastfeeding. I mean, breastfeeding is a wonderful thing. It helps the mom and the babies to bond. But it is also very hard. And I think we can sometimes forget to emphasize that this is a hard thing to do for a lot of moms.

So, encourage breastfeeding for the immunity and the antibodies and all the bonding. But also, if you also emphasize that, hey, this is going to help your child's brain develop cognitively, I think that can help with the situation as well.

Are there other tips you recommend for good brain health beyond what's used as metrics in this study?

I think a lot of us have to also remember that we have to stop sometimes and take care of ourselves. It is okay to say no to people when they ask you to do certain things. It's okay to stop and say, you know, I need to take a walk around the block. I need to go and get a massage. I need to go just hang out with friends. Something like that, to decompress yourself.

In America, in the Western society, we're always go, go, go, go, go, go, go. Whereas you go into other societies, a lot of times you don't necessarily see that. You know when to stop and to take a break. We need to learn that more over here. I think in the Western society that we need to say I need to take some self-time, some self-care for myself.


Texas among worst states for brain health in the nation, according to new study

About Life Extension study
6 tips to keep your brain healthy

Maintaining Your Brain Health

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.