Your Brain Health
The single greatest system ever designed in the history of the universe is your brain. Your brain is responsible for your every thought, emotion and behavior. Unfortunately we humans do not know much about our brains, and it is time to change that.
- Your brain weighs two to four pounds.
- Your brain is comprised of 60 percent fat and is the fattiest system in your body.
- Your brain consumes 25 percent of the blood from every heartbeat.
- Your brain has two sides or hemispheres: the left hemisphere helps you with language, detail, and analysis; the right hemisphere helps you with faces, spatial orientation and sounds.
- Your brain has a cortex and subcortex: your cortex is conscious and helps you learn, remember, communicate, read, write, orient to space and process sensory information, and gives you personality; your subcortex processes subconscious motor or procedural behaviors such as dressing, driving and typing on your computer. Your cortex and subcortex interact as a beautiful symphony.
- Your hippocampus is the structure in your brain that enables you to learn. It sits in the middle of each temporal lobe just under each temple on your skull.
New Ideas about Your Brain
- The human brain (like the animal brain) can generate new brain cells. This new brain cell development (neurogenesis) occurs in the hippocampus.
- The human brain is now thought to have “neural plasticity” or be a system that is highly dynamic, constantly reorganizing and malleable. It is shaped by environmental input.
- Our brains need exposure to environments that are enriched, complex and novel. Environments that are passive and rote do not help the health of your brain.
- Exposure to enriched environments across your lifespan will lead to new brain cell development and increased cellular connections (“synaptic density”). Synaptic density or brain reserve may help to delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Five Domains of the ‘Brain Health Lifestyle’
Brain health begins in the womb and needs to be promoted across your lifespan. Consider the following “Brain Health Lifestyle” to build up your brain reserve:
- Do not isolate or segregate as you get older.
- Join groups and social organizations in your community.
- Maintain and build your friendship and family network.
- Be forgiving.
- Develop hobbies.
- Do not retire.
- Walk between 7,000 and 12,000 steps daily. Walk several times a week. Buy yourself a pedometer to remind yourself to walk and to keep track of your daily steps.
- Do gardening.
- Do aerobic exercise.
- Use both sides of your body more often: become ambidextrous.
- Learn a second language.
- Read and write (use your nondominant hand) on a daily basis; the more complex, the better.
- Learn sign language.
- Play board games.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Listen to classical music.
- Problem solve.
- Pray on a daily basis.
- Regularly attend a formal place of worship.
- Learn to meditate.
- Learn relaxation procedures with deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
- Slow down.
- Do not be afraid to say no.
- Eat 80 percent of what you intend to eat at each meal.
- Eat with utensils so you eat less.
- Eat healthier foods.
- Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts and unsalted nuts.
- Increase your intake of antioxidants.
- Eat colored fruits (grapes, apples, cantaloupe and berries) and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Decrease your intake of processed foods and red meats.
- Eat one sit down meal a day with others.
Contributed by Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., AFA's senior brain health advisor.