Texas found itself near the bottom of a recent nationwide ranking about brain health due to poor rates of regular exercise and healthy eating.

Life Extension recently ranked the Lone Star State No.43 after analyzing seven different metrics to assess the brain health of Americans. While the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas ranked worst in the nation in terms of brain health, states including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine all landed in the top 10.

Nearly all of the metrics considered in this study are related to obesity, one of the most serious public health challenges facing the United States.

Being obese can seriously impact a person’s brain health at all stages of life in a variety of ways. Excess weight can reduce blood flow to the brain, thereby hindering development and cognitive functions and increasing the risk of dementia and more. Through its effects on hormones, fat cells can cause inflammation and insulin resistance, contributing to an array of negative health outcomes ranging from type 2 diabetes to cancer, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

The first metric the Life Extension team considered was exercise. Using health data from the CDC, the study scored each state by the percentage of adults saying they had worked out in the past month. For this metric, Utah placed No.1 with a top score of 84.4%, followed by Minnesota and Nevada with 83.5% and 83%, respectively.

Texas ranked No.44, with only 73.7% of adults reporting recently working out.

“We know that [exercise] helps the heart,” Dr. Donna Newsome, a neurologist with Texas Health Presbyterian Plano, remarked in an interview with KERA. “Well, it also helps to bring the problem solving and your memory and your mental health.”

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, one study also found connections between having a healthy brain and a healthy heart, with improving heart health past age 50 resulting in reduced risk factors for stroke and dementia among participants.

The next metric in which the Lone Star State achieved a lackluster result was the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The state placed No.40, with just 67.6% of adults saying they ate nutrient-rich produce daily. A balanced diet with adequate amounts of protein and minimally processed foods is key to achieving a healthy body and mind, a body of research has shown.

“We know what we’re supposed to eat,” said Newsome. “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.”

Another area where Texas performed poorly had to do with reading, which has been shown to strengthen language skills, memory, and more. Only 35.5% of adults reported that they engaged in reading for leisure and just 25% said they read to their children aged 5 and under daily, earning the state rankings of No. 43 and No. 51, respectively, in these two metrics.

The areas where Texas performed a bit better were meditation, breastfeeding children for 12 months, and getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Google Trends found that Texans’ interest in meditation and mindfulness scored 43, placing them at No. 38 among other states. Next, 39.6% of babies were breastfed for 12 months, and only 35.1% of adults reported not getting enough sleep at night, giving the state rankings of No. 27 and No. 28 in these metrics.

Another helpful tip from Newsome to ensure a person’s brain health is to take time to relax and unwind.

“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,'” she said.