The correlation between a healthy brain and the potential for a productive, high quality life experience is clear. A healthy brain can learn, think, organize and store ideas, remember, be strategic, make decisions and multi-task. It can feel a range of emotions, express itself and be intuitive. It controls a person’s ability to move at will, walk, talk, breathe, swallow and sleep.
When something goes wrong in this ‘control centre’, it can be devastating because it can affect so many aspects of an individual’s life. There can be physical, cognitive and emotional challenges, often compounded by stigma and social isolation.
While we don’t yet understand the cause of most brain conditions, there are some ways to give your brain the best chance for longevity and overall health:
Protect your head:
- Wear a helmet when skating, cycling, skiing/snowboarding, skateboarding, riding a scooter, etc.
- Wear your seatbelt to avoid head and spinal cord injuries caused by car accidents.
- Think twice about risky or dangerous behaviour – it can lead to catastrophic brain and spinal cord injuries.
- Take concussions seriously. Even mild concussions are brain injuries and have been proven to cause damage that is evident 30-40 years following the injury.
- When you physically exercise, you produce new neurons (brain cells).
- Regular physical exercise correlates with improved health – meaning less risk for high blood pressure, metabolic problems (i.e. cholesterol) and weight gain, which is all good for the brain.
- In 2003, scientists at the University of Illinois reported that physically fit study subjects (ages 55-79) had less age-related brain-tissue shrinkage than less active subjects. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers saw clear differences in the frontal, temporal, and parietal regions of the brain. The tissues affected are crucial to memory, learning, and cell communication.
- Eating a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet has many health advantages but there are direct benefits for your brain. While only 2% of your body weight, your brain needs 20% of a healthy daily calorie intake to function well.
- Research recommends foods high in antioxidants because the brain may be more vulnerable to free radical damage (oxidation). In general, dark-skinned fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidant levels. Vegetables: kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn and eggplant. Fruits: prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids support brain function (synaptic plasticity). Walnuts, kiwi fruit and cold water fish including halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna are good sources.
- Fat is an important source of energy for your brain but it must the right kind of fat! Increase consumption of unsaturated fats (fish, some oils, avocado). Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – they are linked to many health challenges including cognitive decline.
Stimulate your brain:
- Use it or lose it! An active and healthy brain is one that has continual stimulation!
- An active brain can continually adapt and rewire itself.
- Learning, problem solving, and social interaction all stimulate the brain and protect against cognitive decline.