by Dr. Alan Inglis

You can get a sneak peek at an elderly person's future mental health if you know something about their lifestyle, outlook and exercise habits.

That was the message from a couple recent studies that looked to predict our likelihood of developing cognitive decline as we age.

One study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that older people who are outgoing and relaxed are less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease. These are people who don't sweat the small stuff, an attitude that appears to be healthy.

The study authors asked 506 elderly people about their lifestyle and personality traits. Then, checking back after six years, the researchers found that more relaxed people were 50 percent less likely to show symptoms of dementia.

A second study, this one from Canada, demonstrated that exercise helps the brain as profoundly as it helps the body. A group of regularly exercising Canadian women above the age of 65 scored 10 percent higher on a cognitive function test. These women also had better blood pressure in the brain, and it's not too much of a leap to believe that better blood flow makes you a little quicker on the uptake.

The message here is simple, and not that earth-shattering – take care of yourself, and you'll be less likely to develop degenerative conditions as you age. Get some exercise, manage your stress and cut out the junk food.

Study after study is proving the truthfulness of what I consider the golden rule of medicine – if you take good care of your body, your body is going to return the favor.