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Building brain muscles -- even with Parkinson's

Nov. 29, 2012 @ 11:40 PM

As Green Bay Packers' coach Vince Lombardi once said: "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." Today, neurologists can explain exactly what the coach was on to.

When you practice learning something new -- playing the piano, dribbling a basketball or using your computer mouse with your opposite hand -- you're building new neural pathways in your brain. The more intense the practice, the stronger and more functional those neural pathways, and the better you can play the piano or the more likely you are to make a three-pointer with your non-dominant hand.

Fortunately, old dogs CAN learn new tricks, and as you get older your brain can continue to build new pathways and get stronger, even if it's at a slower pace than when you were a kid. To make sure your brain stays toned and ready to fire, the thought for the day? AEROBICS. You can protect prefrontal and temporal gray matter volume and forge new neural pathways with daily activity. (Our suggestion for all ages: walking -- 100 steps a minute for 10 to 15 minutes; then 2.5 minutes of intense walking -- 130 steps a minute. Repeat at least once sometime during your day.)

Happily, this brain-building technique also can help folks who develop a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson's, in which old pathways are lost and new ones are hard to develop. At Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, intense exercise improves symptoms for more than 30 percent of people with Parkinson's.

Now, can you remember how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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