Brain Health

We live in a world that is fixated on health: the latest workout, the newest diet, the most advanced vitamin. Our doctors advise us to focus on heart health; the media tells us to lower our fat and cholesterol; the exercise gurus tell us to get into Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, or Zumba; and the infomercials want to sell us the latest slim product.

But what about our brains? What are we doing to give good nutrition and exercise for our brain?  According to the American Heart Association, “What is good for your heart is good for your brain!” Here are some tips to keep your brain healthy.

According to the CDC, 5 of the top 10 causes of death are potentially preventable through improved heart health, and are listed as; Heart Disease, Respiratory Disease, Stroke, Diabetes, and Kidney Disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association and many other resources, the same preventive steps may lead to better Brain Health as well.

Although Alzheimer’s Disease is not curable, nor has any health measure been proven to stop the spread of the disease, “Some autopsy studies show that as many as 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease” (Alzheimer’s Association). Meaning that those with Alzheimer’s have a higher incidence of heart disease. Common sense would tell us that focusing on our health is a wise choice.

Most of the experts, including the American Heart Association suggest focusing on three areas to increase heart health (and in this case brain health too). Healthy foods; maintaining physical activity and brain exercise.  Yes, our brains need exercise too!

We will turn to the American Heart Association for recommendations on diet, since the health of the brain is intrinsically linked with the heart. First, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Second, eat a variety of whole grains. Third, eat fish at least 2 times per week. Fourth, eat food low in saturated fat. Fifth, eat meats that are lower in fat.  Try to avoid fad diets, particularly when it is causing you to binge.

Everywhere you turn, there is an exercise program to “change your life.” Whatever you choose to do just keep moving and check with you doctor to make sure your plans are within your physical abilities. Do something to exercise – but make it fun!  Physical activity is a life choice to enjoy life, not a form of torture. Do you enjoy walking? Walk. Do you enjoy biking? Bike. Do you enjoy kayaking? Kayak. Enjoy being outdoors and enjoy life.

After you have chosen an exercise plan, and you know how to stay on it, it is time to exercise your most important muscle – your brain! Call this mental health, call this brain calisthenics, call it what you would like, but your brain needs good health directly for your body to feel good.  If you have ever experienced a broken bone and later taken off that pesky cast or splint, you have seen firsthand that displeasure of atrophy.  Atrophy is wasting away of muscle or tissue, typically due to the degeneration of cells, or becoming vestigial during evolution.  This same process can happen to the brain. We spend a great deal of time in our formative years learning new things – elementary school, middle school, college, new jobs, teaching children; the list goes on.  But eventually we grow complacent with our lives and we stop learning new things. It is important to keep our minds active: play games, learn a new language, meet new people, be social, develop a new skill; challenge yourself. I have never met an advance stage Alzheimer’s patient that was an avid reader.

We hope these tips will help you to enjoy life, be healthy and be happy.