Cheers to the Brain… and Keepin’ it Healthy

Have you stopped to think about how awesome your brain is? It’s MIND BLOWING!  See what I did there?

But, the brain really is awesome. Your brain is made of neurons (like the brain computer), the soma or cell body (contains all the working parts for the neurons), the axon that acts like the connecting cables and the dendrites are the nerve endings that reach out and allow the neurons to talk to each other. The brain controls everything from the way you see, smell and taste to enabling you to put one foot in front of the other or wave your hand. It is the center of thinking, action and your entire being.

As the boomers continue to boom and age with renewed self-awareness, we have heard a lot about “brain health.” A growing number of folks are concerned about maintaining a well-functioning brain for as long as possible in hopeful expectation of preserving their quality of life. Take heart, a failing brain is not an inevitable part of aging. As a matter of fact, there are some pretty cool things you can do to preserve the old “grey matter,” according to the Harvard School of Medicine

  1. Get mental stimulation -Through research with mice and humans, scientists have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological “plasticity” and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss. Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try “mental gymnastics,” such as word puzzles or math problems Experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts.
  1. Get physical exercise -Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Animals who exercise regularly 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. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.
  1. Improve your diet -Good nutrition can help your mind as well as your body. For example, people that eat a Mediterranean style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil) and plant sources of proteins are less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia.
  1. Improve your blood pressure -High blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline in old age. Use lifestyle modification to keep your pressure as low as possible. Stay lean, exercise regularly, limit your alcohol to two drinks a day, reduce stress, and eat right.
  1. Improve your blood sugar -Diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia. You can help prevent diabetes by eating right, exercising regularly, and staying lean. But if your blood sugar stays high, you’ll need medication to achieve good control.
  1. Improve your cholesterol -High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol are associated with an increased the risk of dementia. Diet, exercise, weight control, and avoiding tobacco will go a long way toward improving your cholesterol levels. But if you need more help, ask your doctor about medication.
  1. Consider low-dose aspirin -Some observational studies suggest that low-dose aspirin may reduce the risk of dementia, especially vascular dementia. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate.
  1. Avoid tobacco -Avoid tobacco in all its forms.
  1. Don’t abuse alcohol -Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to two drinks a day.
  1. Care for your emotions -People who are anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted tend to score poorly on cognitive function tests. Poor scores don’t necessarily predict an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age, but good mental health and restful sleep are certainly important goals.
  1. Protect your head -Moderate to severe head injuries, even without diagnosed concussions, increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
  1. Build social networks -Strong social ties have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy.