You Asked, We Answered: Extending Your Lifespan

Dr. Mehmet Oz, health expert on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University, answered your questions about exercising your brain.

Theresa Hadley from Mattapoisett, Mass., asked: "What are some other ways to exercise the brain? Are reading books and Internet reading as useful as crosswords?

Dr. Oz answered: Reading books and browsing the Web COULD work, but the key is to challenge the brain. Doing easy crossword puzzles will not help much either, so initiate novel activities like driving home a new way, or taking up a new hobby, or start dancing, which forces you to learn new moves AND be coordinated enough to maintain balance and elegance.

Valerie from New Rochelle, N.Y., asked: "Is it enough to do the same stimulating thing all the time, e.g. doing the N.Y. Times crossword every day, or is it necessary to do different activities?"

Dr. Oz answered: Best to change up the routines because the brain will develop a rut if you over-practice in one area but ignore the others. But if you keep doing progressively more challenging puzzles so you never get all the answers easily, you are on a reasonable path.

Debbie from Sarasota, Fla., asked: "Are there ways to get your own probability of possible medical problems if you have no way of knowing your bio-history? I watch you every moment that I know you are on TV. I think you are GREAT!"

Dr. Oz answered: Thanks for the kind words. Genetic and biomarker testing systems now exist. Some are expensive, but if you cannot get your family history (remember this is a list of illnesses, at least from your first-degree relatives), then these are worthwhile (23andMe, Navigenics Inc. and sample companies).

For adopted folks, your state's Department of Health and Human Services should have birth records and a great all-around clearinghouse Web site is the Government's National Adoptions Information Clearinghouse (naic.acf.hhs.gov). Remember that there is no need for a tearful reunion if that's not wanted. These registries often contact adoptees and birth parents for the sole purpose of gathering health information.

Serena from Vancouver, Canada, asked: "Hello Dr. Oz, If both sides of my family show a history of an individual health issue how is that compounded in me? That is if one side has a history of heart disease (including the parent) and the other side has a history of diabetes for example (but not the parent), does that mean the children are at a higher risk of both?"

Dr. Oz answered: The risks are compounded for some illnesses, but in general once you have a risk, then you are already on the alert for the problem no matter how many more family members are afflicted. But remember that genes only control 30 percent of how we age. Environment shapes the rest and family share environment and risk factors, so don't assume that just because all 11 of your siblings are heavy and diabetic, that you must be as well. Heavy people own heavy pets!

Dale from Woodbridge, Conn., asked: "Dr. Oz, I'm a 50-year-old female. I have excellent blood pressure and cholesterol. My dad had a quadruple bypass at around 60 years of age, and always had high blood pressure. My question to you is, do we tend to take after the male or female parent, or is it a direct combination of the genes that we need to be concerned with. Thanks for 'doing what you do' so well. You've made a great impact on our lives!"

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