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Japan’s legislative structure – main points January 27, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics.
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Some of us may have difficulties following Japanese politics due to a lack of understanding of its complicated legislative structure and changing political system.

In line with the start of its ordinary session (see PM Abe’s opening address here and report here) as the year’s budget draft is being discussed in the Diet till the end of March, The Japan Times (Jan. 23, 2007) has provided some reference points or quick notes on the meaning of DIET, its constitution, types of sessions and the various parties in the two Houses as below:

The Diet is the center of Japanese politics. It’s where ruling and opposition lawmakers play power games and employ tactics in both open and backroom negotiations. With this year’s ordinary legislative session set to start Thursday, following are some basic facts about the parliamentary system:

Why is the legislature called the Diet?

The prewar parliament under the Meiji Constitution was modeled on that of imperial Germany, which is called the Diet in English. The term dates to the assembly of the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled most of Central Europe from 962 to 1806. Imperial Germany was chosen as the state model because Japanese leaders wanted a powerful system centered on the Emperor.

What constitutes the Diet?

The Diet consists of the 480-seat House of Representatives, also called the Lower House, and the 242-seat House of Councilors, or the Upper House.

What are the functional differences between the two chambers?

The House of Representatives is more powerful. As a general rule, a legislative bill must clear both chambers before enactment, but the decision of the Lower House prevails on three key issues: selection of the prime minister, adoption of the budget and approval of a treaty.

Even if the Upper House votes down a bill, the Lower House can override the decision with support of two-thirds or more of its members.

What kinds of sessions are held by the Diet?

The Diet holds ordinary, extraordinary and special sessions.

An ordinary session is convened once a year, usually in late January. It runs for 150 days until mid-June.

The main focus for the first three months of an ordinary session is the year’s budget draft, because the fiscal year ends on March 31.

After the ordinary session, the Cabinet usually convenes an extraordinary session in the fall to deliberate pending bills.

A special session is convened to choose a new prime minister within 30 days of a general election.

How does the length of a Diet session affect politics?

All bills submitted to the Diet are automatically scrapped at the end of a session unless action is taken to carry them over to the next session. Thus, opposition parties often try to kill a bill backed by the government and ruling camp by dragging out the deliberations in protest.

The prime minister often delivers a televised speech at the beginning of a Diet session. Why?

The prime minister delivers the General Policy Speech at the outset of ordinary sessions to outline policy plans for the year, followed by similar speeches by the finance minister, foreign minister, and economic and fiscal policy minister.

The prime minister also must deliver a policy speech at the outset of extraordinary and special sessions. Other ministers deliver speeches for those sessions when considered necessary.

What is the current strength of each party in the two chambers?

The ruling coalition — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — hold a majority in both chambers. A breakdown for Lower House seats (female Diet members are in parentheses) shows the LDP holds 306 (27), the Democratic Party of Japan and Club of Independents 113 (10), New Komeito 31 (four), the Japanese Communist Party nine (two), the Social Democratic Party seven (two), People’s New Party and Group of Independents five (none), and independents nine (none).

In the Upper House, the LDP has 111 (12), the DPJ and Shin-Ryokufukai 82 (11), New Komeito 24 (five), the JCP nine (three), the SDP six (one), PNP four (one), independents four (one), and two seats vacant.

China’s anti-satellite weapon test January 24, 2007

Posted by genchan in China, General, Government, Security.
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The militarization of space has begun – so warn some overly concerned pundits. Militarization of space? Has the militarization on earth been so advance that we are now taking it to the next stage?

Not exactly. But at least the concern is real. This is about the latest news on China first reported by an aerospace trade magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology (story here) that the Chinese successfully shot down one of its own aging weather satellite (Fengyun-1C) with a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile on Jan. 11.

With this news, it is now known that the US, former USSR and China are the only three countries in history to have anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) capability.

Before we get into the implications of China’s action, it is necessary to note that while the test marked the first successful use of a ground-based weapon, it is not unprecedented. A quick check on Wiki will reveal that the exploration of anti-satellite weapons dates back to the 1960s with the US and USSR separately engaging in the development and deployment of such space weapons. The USSR tested theirs by spewing out pellets from one satellite to destroy another in orbit and the US, though failed in their test fire in 1983, was successful in intercepting its own satellite P78 SolWind in September 1985 using a kinetic energy weapon launched from an airborne plane.

US’s ASAT program was made part of its broader Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or “Star Wars” to use ground- and space- based systems to protect the country from nuclear missiles. That unilateral action raised the stakes with the USSR sparking fears of a new arms race at that time that prompted a shift in the minute hand of the doomsday clock to 3 mins to midnight in 1984 (BAS).

While the tests carried out by the US and USSR can be framed within the context of the Cold War, why is China test firing theirs at a time like this? And now that China has proven its capability, what implications would it have on international relations and the future use of outer space?

The fact that a missile was launched from a Chinese base and destroyed a Chinese satellite in space while keeping mum about it does not reflect well on a growing power that has pledged to rise ‘peacefully’ and take responsibility for its actions. The opaqueness of its military and space programs and rocket technology including its status as a nuclear power inevitably add to the problem. It is therefore only natural that other countries have voiced their concerns and called on Beijing to explain its military intentions in space. When a country behave in ways that other countries fail to comprehend, it immediately raises doubts and concerns more so in areas related to security. This could add further tension to a strained Japan-China relations as Japan sees the matter as a security threat (Japan Times, Jan. 20, 2007).

It should have taken precautions by alerting other countries of its move since it should know very well that such acts would not go undetected and would certainly affect relations with other countries. Keeping silence about it while denying that China has any ambition to militarize space would only leave doubts on those fearing an attack in space. What was China trying to prove? Was it trying to surprise the world that it now has space offensive weapons or was it just a reckless act trying to get rid of its defunct satellite from orbit? 

If its a cheap shot at removing one of its aging satellites, it is indeed a reckless act. This is because blowing up a satellite in space at a height of 850km from earth will contribute to space debris that will continue to remain in space for at least a decade. This is on top of some 14,000 pieces already floating around since Soviet’s Sputnik I launch in 1957, with about 200 new pieces added every year (The Japan Times, Jan. 22, 2007). As quoted in Defensetech.org, the Chinese test could “lead to nearly 800 debris fragments of size 10 cm or larger, nearly 40,000 debris fragments with size between 1 and 10 cm, and roughly 2 million fragments of size 1 mm or larger,” and that “roughly half of the debris fragments with size 1 cm or larger would stay in orbit for more than a decade.”

It is not only the concern of space junk per se but how such debris with some smaller pieces travelling at about 29,000 kph could cause damage to other orbiting satellites, the International Space Station (ISS) and shuttle missions in space. NASA’s space shuttles have rerouted their paths a dozen times since the Challenger exploded in 1986 and the ISS also had to maneuver several times to avoid space debris (Japan Times, Jan. 22, 2007). Eventually, meteors will no longer be our only concern.

The most pressing concern for most nations, however, is whether China has the capability to blow up spy satellites and GPS tracking satellites orbiting at higher altitudes (about 20,000 km up). The US has a network of these satellites in orbit and depends heavily on them for information gathering/reconnaissance and guidance including its operation of missile defense system. The Newscientistspace reported that the Chinese test is a low technology and can be easily applied by other countries as well. It is hard to conceive China as a credible threat since it would require more testings and much more advanced systems to come close to directly challenge the US. Thus, it would be somewhat premature to immediately conclude that China is capable of or intends to destroy Western strategic satellites, though it does give the country some leverage of holding Western satellites hostage at least in theory. If anything, it clearly shows China’s resolve to beef up its military capabilities in the hope of acquiring a place among the great powers in sync with its growing economic clout.

Nonetheless, if left unattended, the problem could escalate with the US and Japan upgrading their satellites with defensive and/or offensive capabilities, effectively contributing to a new arms race in space. A return to the Cold War ages with China and the US at opposite poles would be the last thing we want.

To avoid such escalations and prevent other countries from having any great ideas, its high time the Outer Space treaty, where the US and China are signatories, be upgraded to include a ban on ASATs testing or the use of lasers to take out orbiting satellites. There should be binding rules that would guarantee the use of space only for peaceful means.

Nuclear doomsday – 5 mins to midnight! January 23, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Globalization, Nuclear, Security, World.
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Though my focus is on events in the East Asian region, I found this extremely interesting and decided to blog about it since it has ramification for both the region of my interest and the world at large.

To begin, how much of us are even aware of such a thing called a doomsday clock (pic above)? I for one was unaware of it until I read about it recently. Just a few days ago, Japanese TV made a documentary in line with this clock timeline to highlight the dangers of nuclear weapons and how close we have come to a nuclear doomsday.

Certainly, Japan would know best as it is the only victim of nuclear weapons in the world. Every year, Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminds us of the destruction caused to mankind that has continued to reverberate decades later.

The doomsday clock is an indicator of how close our world is to a nuclear catastrophe. Created and ‘maintained’ by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists(BAS), it “evoked both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero)”. BAS was founded by University of Chicago scientists who were directly involved in the Manhattan Project (that gave birth to the world’s first atomic weapon) and therefore realized the consequences associated with nuclear force. Because of the organization’s reputation and the fact that its board of sponsors include 18 Nobel laureates, the clock plays an important role in ‘assessing’ the vulnerability of our world to nuclear threats, health epidemic and global warming.

Since the US rained two bombs on Japan, the former Soviet Union have tested theirs and until late 1980s, the world were divided into two blocs – the West vs the East, with each trying to outperform the other under what we have come to accept as the Cold War period. The end of the Cold War marked a new beginning as it effectively stopped the nuclear arms race between the two poles. If the minute hand was at 6 mins to midnight in 1988, it was at 17 mins (11:43) in 1991 (the furthest ever).

The future was supposed to be bright as the US and SU agreed to dismantle their large stockpile of nuclear warheads and as the world move from bipolarity to multipolarity and militarization to economic development.

Yet today, we are nearer to doomsday than ever before. The world did change after the collapse of the Berlin Wall but it did not change for the better. BAS justify their decision to shift the minute hand this year as below:

The world stands at the brink of a second nuclear age. The United States and Russia remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the Bomb. Climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity. Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property.

Currently, both the US and Russia still hold large quantities of nuclear arsenals. Russia has 15,000 nuclear weapons and the US still has about 10,000, with each side having more than 1000 on high alert that can be deployed in minutes. “Both countries would need to dismantle one weapon a day for the next 25 years to even approach the stockpile size of any of the other nuclear weapon states” (BAS website).

Countries possessing nuclear weapons have also grown in number. At present, there are nine countries possessing nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Libya would have been the tenth if not for their decision to abort and dismantle their’s. If Iran succeeds and joins in, it would not only increase the number but contribute to more complication especially when the US considers Iran as a rogue state and part of the axis of evil. Terrorism is another fear of weapons falling into the wrong hands. This is not to mention the possibility of accidents coming from a misfiring due to miscommunication, malfunction or system deterioration.

If nuclear proliferation starts spliting up the world again, dismantling of nuclear stockpiles (one of the recommendations of BAS) would be the least thinkable. Already, various moves have been taken in furthering ballistic missile defense system that could lead to an unending cycle of arms race.

This is the ugly side of the rise of globalization and the use of high-tech such as nano-technology. Information is shared easily and weapons are shrunk down but yet packed with more force. As our world become ever more connected in time and space, we become even more vulnerable to desolation.  

We might need to ponder what will happen when the hand strikes twelve. It would certainly be worse than the Cinderella story of the chariot turning into a pumpkin. While Cinderella does not have the power to turn back the clock, we do. The doomsday clock has been adjusted 18 times since 1947 and its time for us to adjust it as far back as we can for the 19th time or else….

Japan’s agriculture sector remains protected January 22, 2007

Posted by genchan in Economics, General, Government, Japan.
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It is no secret that Japan has for decades protected its agriculture sector with significant subsidies and high tariff rates. Its not only Japan but most advanced countries like the US and EU have done the same and earned the wrath of developing nations.

And while nobody dares to bet that Japan today has fully opened its farm sector, it remains less known how much Japan has been able to open up its farm products to foreign competition compared to, say, other OECD countries.

Facing a steep battle with vested interest groups who are not only traditional supporters of the ruling party LDP but also defenders of locally produced farm goods, the government is using unconventional methods such as free trade agreements (FTAs) to put pressure on farm trade liberalization. Reducing tariffs through FTAs do help increase importation of foreign farm products but are limited in their capability since sensitive items such as rice, often excluded from FTAs, would need stronger political will to overcome than what external pressures can offer. It is also worth noting that the exclusion of certain farm items from negotiation demonstrates the constraints and pressures from domestic lobbyists.

According to The Japan Times (Jan. 18, 2007), subsidies for farmers and tariff rates for agricultural items have remained high compared to imports in other sectors.  The paper reported on a biennial trade policy review report on Japan issued by the WTO which said that “farm subsidies amounted to 1.3 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, and the ratio of subsidies was almost equal to the share of farm product output in GDP at 1.4 percent”.

The report found that the “overall level of (Japanese) government assistance for agriculture is well above the (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average” and that “tariffs on imports of agricultural products remain high in Japan, with the average coming to 18.8 percent, compared with an average of 6.9 percent for other imports”.

The report (to be made public after a meeting from Jan. 31 – Feb. 2) indicates at least three things: 

  1. FTAs have yet to make an impact on Japan’s domestic farm trade.
  2. Farmers continue to be heavily subsidized by the government.
  3. Structural and regulatory reforms in other sectors like finance, economics, government, education etc. have not been followed successfully by agriculture. 

Asian summits concluded in Cebu January 19, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, China, Community, East Asia, Japan, Regionalism, Southeast Asia.
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The Asian summits were due to be held in mid-December last year but called off due to what the host country, Philippines, saw as an approaching thunderstorm that would wreck havoc the carefully planned meetings. Unofficially, part of the reason was thought to be due to fears of a looming terrorist attack based on external intelligence sources. Whatever the reasons, Philippines chose to play safe and postponed it to a month later on a last minute notice.

Thus, the summits were carried out in Cebu from the 13th to 15th January under heavy security, successfully concluded without the storm nor the attacks.

There were four summit level meetings held consecutively a day apart. In an ‘inductive’ format, the ASEAN leaders gathered for their 12th ASEAN Summit on the first day, followed by the 10th ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit and the 7th Tripartite Summit (plus three members) on the second day, and finally the 2nd East Asia Summit on the last day.

What have these meetings discussed and agreed upon? Below is a summary.

1. ASEAN Summit

  • uphold centrality of ASEAN and its standing as the driving force
  • five agreements were signed:
    1. Cebu Declaration Towards a Caring and Sharing Community – which reiterates ASEAN’s commitment to accelerate cooperation to improve the quality of life for citizens in the ASEAN region
    2. Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint for the ASEAN Charter – ASEAN leaders endorsed the Report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the ASEAN Charter and requested a task force to begin drafting the Charter before the next Summit.
    3. Cebu Declaration on the Acceleration of the Establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 – which will advance the integration of the ASEAN Community five years ahead of the original plan.
    4. ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers – which will intensify ASEAN efforts to promote fair and appropriate employment protection for ASEAN migrant workers.
    5. ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism – aims at enhancing and deepening regional cooperation on counter terrorism activities.
  • hasten the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community to  2015 by transforming ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.
  • statement on Myanmar included in light of the failed UNSC resolution
  • agreed to forge closer cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

2. APT Summit

  •  reaffirmed the APT as the main vehicle in realizing an East Asia community, with ASEAN as the driving force, and with the active participation of the Plus Three members.
  • noted the scheduled adoption of the Second Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation at the next APT Summit in Singapore, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of APT cooperation. The statement shall identify opportunities and challenges and offer strategic guidance for future direction of APT apart from reviewing a decade of accomplishments.
  • acknowledged China’s proposal for a regional monitoring center on infectious diseases. Also acknowledged with appreciation Japan’s new pledge of USD 67 million for battling avian and pandemic influenza in the region.
  • welcomed the outcome of the feasibility study by the Expert Group on the EAFTA, which was spearheaded by China.  And also welcomed the proposal of South Korea to conduct the Phase II study involving the in-depth sector-by-sector analysis of the EAFTA.
  • welcomed the proposal of Japan to establish an Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

3. Tripartite Summit

  • held for the first time in two years.
  • agreed to set up a trilateral consultation mechanism at level of senior foreign affairs officials to conduct close communication and coordination on regional matters.
  • agreed to start negotiations on trilateral investment agreement asap in 2007.
  • welcomed China’s proposal to designate 2007 as the Year of Cultural Exchange among China, Japan and South Korea.
  • agreed that the trilateral cooperation is important for East Asia cooperation and that they respect ASEAN as playing the leading role.
  • ‘abduction issue’ was not stated in the report but worded as “addressing the issue of humanitarian concerns of the international community”. China was reported as being supportive of Japan’s concerns in the abduction issue and would provide “necessary cooperation” (The Japan Times, Jan. 18, 2007)
  • took note of the progress and looked forward to more positive results of the joint research on trilateral FTA.

4. East Asia Summit

  • signed the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of fossil fuel use, and to reduce dependence on conventional fuels, among others.
  • reiterated support for ASEAN’s role as the driving force for economic integration in the region.
  • agreed to launch a Track Two study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) among EAS participants (based on Japan’s proposal for a free trade area among the 16 members).
  • included the phrase on the ‘abduction issue’ (first time ever) as Japan work to get support from the members for the unresolved abduction dispute between Japan and North Korea.

Apart from the above, there were ASEAN+1 summits held as well. With China, ASEAN signed an agreement on Trade in Services and another agreement on enhancing cooperation in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the 14th of January.

Other news include a AUD 5 million finance by Australia announced on 12th January for the second phase of the ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases Progamme (EID), which aims to assist ASEAN countries in developing a regional instrument to mobilise multi –national (ASEAN) outbreak response teams.

Aso & Tanigaki – next PMs? January 18, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Japan, Politics.
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Pundits have noted in the last September’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election that Taro Aso and Sadakazu Tanigaki knew they had no chance in defeating Shinzo Abe for the post but still went ahead because they wanted to position themselves and build up their bases for the next LDP race.

In short what they were targeting was not the present but the future.

Somehow, there appears to be some sense in this line of thinking. As reported in The Japan Times (Jan. 17, 2007), Aso admitted to making a proposal to Tanigaki that they “should form a political alliance in a bid to take turns holding the LDP’s top post and hence the prime ministership” on condition that Aso become PM first. This issue became public when Tanigaki broke what Aso alleged to be a ‘confidential conversation’ by mentioning about it in a recent lecture in Kyoto.

One wonders what is the reason behind Tanigaki’s open remarks if its not to undermine Aso for the top job. 

Obviously, the ultimate aim is not the LDP presidential post but the PM position which is effectively assured considering that the party holds a majority in the Lower house and is now gearing up for the upcoming Upper house election (at present LDP holds 111 seats out of 242 with the remaining coming from Komeito’s 24).

The fact that Aso is already looking towards a post-Abe era could mean that Abe’s position in office may be short-lived as the current PM battles resistance from vested groups who are against structural reforms and Constitution amendments and shore up his sliding popularity. 

Myanmar – a thorn in the ASEAN rose January 17, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, Government, Politics, Southeast Asia.
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ASEAN, which stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been coming up with new initiatives and moves not only to adapt itself to a globalizing world but to create a better future for the region is once again bogged down by the inefficiency of its most troubled member, Myanmar.

Ever since the military junta came to power in 1962 and denied its citizens basic democratic values enjoyed by its Southern neighbors, such as the continuous detention of Aung San Suu Kyi for the past 2 decades and rampant human rights violations, it has been under the international spotlight of NGOs and Western governments who have slapped it with all kinds of economic and political sanctions.

Unfortunately, the sanctions have done little to destabilize the junta or cause it to shift course even though it did come up with a so-called “road map” for democracy – a plan denounced by the UN and Western nations as a sham. Paranoia and fearful of an attack by the West are what some believes to have led the regime to move its capital administration from coastal Yangon to inland Pyinmana that began from the end of 2005.

A new member of ASEAN, Myanmar only joined in 1997 and as such is less familiar with the values and aspirations of the group. Despite apprehension from certain quarters, Malaysia’s former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was thought to have played an instrumental role in Myanmar’s accession. Reasons for bringing Myanmar in ranges from using the grouping to resolve some of the conflicts between Myanmar and neighboring countries like Thailand, and socializing the reclusive state through constructive engagement, to preventing it from falling into the Chinese sphere of influence.

 10 years down the road, ASEAN has not been able to make any successful headway as the country has remained a stubborn thorn stuck deep in ASEAN’s heart. This has prompted Dr Mahathir to recently express his dissatisfaction and regret for incorporating Myanmar. A little too late for that. The question then becomes what to do with Myanmar to avoid it from dragging the feet of other members who are eager to move forward and plunging the organization into international disgrace.

One way is to expel it from the group but how to go about doing this is less clear since there are no clear rules on punishing a member for non-compliance. This could change eventually should the ASEAN Charter be adopted and rules of engagement become binding.

In the meantime, ASEAN would have no choice but to take responsibility in resolving the Myanmar problem now that China and Russia have vetoed a Washington-backed UNSC resolution “calling on the regime to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups” (The Japan Times, January 15, 2007) 

Part of the reasoning for China and Russia to veto is that human rights problem in Myanmar has not been a threat to regional/international security and thus do not justify Security Council action. Another part of the reason, some believes to be more apparent, is the closeness between China and Myanmar and the importance of Myanmar’s untapped natural resources to China’s booming economy.

While Myanmar celebrates in victory, the other ASEAN members weren’t pleased with the result as most of them saw the resolution as the best way to put pressure on Myanmar in ways that the grouping has not been able to do. Resigned to that fact, the agreement to take responsibility for Myanmar was only then added into the statement of the group’s annual summit in Cebu, Philippines.

How’s your brain health? January 4, 2007

Posted by genchan in General, Health, Lifestyle, Social.
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An avid supporter of anything that promotes health, I decided to blog a bit on the ways to stay ‘brain active’.

The Alliance for Aging Research, a non-profit citizen advocacy organization based in Washington, offers ten steps to keep our brains healthy. Below are the ten steps as reported in Yahoo! News (1.1.07):

  1. Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (commonly found in fish), protein, antioxidants, fruits and vegetables and vitamin B; low in trans fats; and with an appropriate level of carbohydrates will help keep your brain healthy.
  2. Stay Mentally Active. Activities such as learning a new skill or language, working on crossword puzzles, taking classes, and learning how to dance can help challenge and maintain your mental functioning.
  3. Exercise Regularly. Exercising often can increase circulation, improve coordination, and help prevent conditions that increase the risk of dementia such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  4. Stay Social. Spending time with friends, volunteering, and traveling can keep your mind active and healthy.
  5. Get Plenty of Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on brain health.
  6. Manage Stress. Participating in yoga, spending time with friends, or doing other stress-relieving activities can help preserve your ability to remember and learn.
  7. Prevent Brain Injury. Wearing protective head gear and seat belts can help you avoid head injury, which has been associated with an increased risk of dementia.
  8. Control Other Health Conditions. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, and controlling stress can help reduce your risk of diseases that affect your brain, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and hypertension.
  9. Avoid Unhealthy Habits. Smoking, heavy drinking and use of recreational drugs can increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
  10. Consider Your Genes. If your family history puts you at risk for developing dementia, work with your doctor to find ways to maintain your brain health to help avoid or slow the progression of cognitive decline.

These ten steps are not extraordinary or uncommon. You have probably heard about them over and over again. They are what your parents have been nagging you when you stay up late watching TV, engage in drinking and smoking, lazing on the sofa the whole day while munching on that favorite french fries, or disliking certain types of veges. While most of them are familiar to all of us, its interesting to note that learning something new be it for work or for leisure has positive implications for the health of our brains which is said to decline with age.

Apart from learning, which is mainly an input activity, it is important to balance it with output, i.e. the ability to express ourselves through words and actions by staying social. Having an active circle of friends could help us to unwind, gain feedback and exchange ideas/thoughts thus training our brain to remain vibrant and fresh.

As the steps clearly show, ensuring our brain health cannot be separated from having a fit body. Yet, there is one thing that is beyond our ability to control (at least at present) and that is what we inherited through our genes. So as long as we stay clear of the last point above, lets get working on the remaining nine steps and prevent cognitive decline.