Happy Wednesday everyone! For this week’s Wellness Wednesday I thought we’d talk a little about brain health.
So how do we define brain health? According to the American Heart Association, “A healthy brain is able to pay attention receive and recognize input from our senses, learn and remember, communicate, solve problems and make decisions, support movement and regulate emotions.”
Why Should We Be Concerned With
Poor brain health can result in cognitive decline, “a deficit in the ability to think, remember, pay attention, communicate, solve problems, make decisions or regulate emotions.” (AHA)
Keeping our brains healthy isn’t usually something we think that much about when we’re younger. After all, why do we need to worry? Cognitive decline only affects old people, doesn’t it? Although we most often hear about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people, these changes to the brain don’t happen overnight.
The time to start thinking about our brain health, no matter how old we are, is now. That’s because, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Research is still evolving, but evidence is strong that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes, including participating in regular physical activity, staying socially engaged, and maintaining good heart health.”
How Can We Take Care Of Our Brains?
The Cleveland Clinic outlines 6 pillars of brain health: physical exercise, food and nutrition, medical health, sleep and relaxation, mental fitness, and social interactions. Let’s take a look at each of these pillars:
You may have heard the old adage that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. We all know that exercise is good for the heart due to its positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. Those same positive effects benefit the brain as well.
In addition, according to Harvard Health, regular exercise can “increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in aging animals.”
Food and Nutrition
Foods rich in antioxidants can help prevent oxidation that can damage the brain over time. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can help keep our brains functioning at optimal levels.
Did you know that having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or depression increases your risk of dementia? If you’re a smoker or you’ve had a moderate to severe head injury (even if it hasn’t been diagnosed) the risk is also increased.
The best way to make sure these risk factors are kept to a minimum is to make and keep annual preventive care appointments. These appointments can act as an early warning signal to let us know we need to act.
Sleep and Relaxation
We all know the importance of getting good, restorative sleep. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there may be an even more important reason to get those 40 winks. Getting the appropriate time/type of sleep “may reduce buildup in the brain of an abnormal protein called beta-amyloid plaque, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Relaxation helps us to reduce stress levels. Things such as meditation, hobbies, warm baths, etc. can help us relax and restore our bodies.
Mentally stimulating activities can help improve brain health. As I talked about in my post The Importance of Lifetime Learning, doing things that make us think outside the box or force us to learn new things can help stimulate our brains to make new connections and improve function in other areas of the brain.
Believe it or not, having an active social life and maintaining relationships can help reduce memory loss. Not only that, if we maintain strong relationships it may lower our stress levels and blood pressure.
If you’d like more information about brain health, I highly recommend you visit the Cleveland Clinic’s website. It’s chock-full of ways to take care of our gray matter. They also have a brain check-up you can take.
I can’t tell you how many prayers I’ve said and tears I’ve shed over folks with dementia or Alzheimer’s being reported missing in our area lately. It seems we have missing person alerts on the news at least once or twice a month where someone with cognitive decline has wandered off and been unable to find their way home.
If we have the opportunity to start improving our risk factors now, wouldn’t it be wise to take advantage of it?
Do you have any tips for supporting brain health? Please share!
American Heart Association https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/brain-health
Alzheimer’s Association https://www.alz.org/help-support/brain_health
Cleveland Clinic https://healthybrains.org/pillars/