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 ( 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!"

Dr. Oz answered: Mammals have a combination of inheritance from both parents, which is why our reproductive system is so effective. Whoever you are most like on the outside AND inside will be most predictive. because you have normal blood pressure and this is the most important predictor, I bet you are safe (assuming you don't smoke).

Patricia from Washington, D.C., asked: "Hi Dr Oz, When considering family history is family branch (maternal versus paternal) pertinent? I am a woman whose mother is alive and well at 86 yet on my paternal side the news is not good: my father died of prostate CA and all his siblings have had breast or prostate Ca. Doctors have told me that my maternal side is the most influential for me. Do you agree?"

Dr. Oz answered: Neither parent overwhelms our genetic inheritance. Again, whoever you are most like on the outside AND inside will be most predictive. Do you look like one side or the other? Who do you look like on the inside. Do you have any risk factors for cancer like the BRCA gene for breast cancer. Did the paternal side have poor health habits like smoking or tolerating obesity? These questions will lead you to logical deductions on risk until we have the genetic testing to provide more objective answers

Jerry from Rochester, N.Y.,: "I understand how and why life style changes and behavior can effect our lives. What I don't understand is if we have genetic building blocks for disease how is it, with alterations in life style and behavior, choices do change these outcomes, if they can at all?"

Dr. Oz answered: Genes are like the blue print of your house. You don't have to build directly from them, and, in fact, depending on available materials, you will sometimes deviate quite a bit. Not all genes become proteins and our bodies will transcribe what is needed when needed. Only a third of our health destiny is genetic. We control the rest (as well as the output of our genes). Smoking will turn on different genes than high blood pressure or running.

Eleanor from Richfield, Ohio, asked: "In your report, the power of 2, you mentioned that by knowing our family health history, one can find out 'what kind of proteins our body makes'. What does that mean and is there a test to learn about 'proteins our body makes'? Do our relatives need to be tested to find this out? In the case of a person whose parents have already passed on, is it too late to get information regarding "proteins" that have been dominant in the family?"

Dr. Oz answered: Genes are transcribed into proteins when they are needed, and this process is controlled by our inheritance and our health habits. If we stress the body, we make more of certain proteins and wear the system down over time, causing shortening of telemeres (the caps on our chromosomes) and subsequent aging. There are several companies doing this testing now, including 23andMe and Navigentics Inc.

Benjamin from San Antonio, Texas, asked: "I went to the doctor today and my blood pressure was at 140 over 100. Should I be alarmed at this measure? What can I do to lower it?"

Dr. Oz answered: You should be very alarmed since this is the single most important cause of aging and will strip 10 years off your life. The ideal BP is 115/75 and you can get there by exercising 30 minutes a day, losing weight until your belly fat (omentum) is gone, joining a stress management program, avoiding processed foods and sometimes taking medications.