Brain Health Lifestyle #3 – Socialization

I have proposed a five factor brain health lifestyle to include (1) Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), (2) Physical Activity, (3) Socialization, (4) Nutrition, and (5) Spirituality. For this blog I want to provide some information on the power of socialization.

Research teaches us that social isolation and segregation, particularly in the later years of life is related to increased risk of dementia. Dementia is a general clinical term that describes a decline in general intelligence, loss of memory, language or visuospatial deficit, change in personality, and decline in functional ability. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the number one cause of dementia in the United States.

Other research indicates passivity in the forties is related to increased risk of dementia in later life. There is a relatively strong message to remain integrated and involved in something meaningful across your entire lifespan. It is also important to be engaged with other people and to develop strong relationships. A study this year taught us that loneliness actually increases the risk of dementia. It is not simply being with others, one needs to feel included and related to the group.

It is never too late to develop a personal inventory of your social network and relationships. Assess your life and determine if you are spending time doing the things that inspire you, more importantly that might inspire others. Socialization and all that is discussed in this blog is a brain health issue and one that should be taken seriously.

Dr. Nussbaum

Brain Health Lifestyle: Physical Activity

Our last blog on brain health discussed the importance of mental stimulation (e.g. brain fitness, brain games) as one factor in my five factor brain health lifestyle. Clearly FitBrains provides a fun and healthy brain fitness regiment that is considered mentally stimulating.

Similar to mental stimulation (e.g. brain games), your brain appreciates it when you are physically active. The reason is simple: every time your heart beats 25% of the blood output from that one heartbeat goes directly to your brain! I refer to this as “market share.” If your brain goes even several minutes without sufficient blood and the oxygen carried by the blood will suffer potential damage with functional and cognitive loss.

Research highlights specific physical activities that reduce the risk of dementia (promote brain health). These include:

  • Walking on a daily basis
  • Aerobic exercise three times a week
  • Dance
  • Knitting
  • Gardening
  • Jogging
  • Treadmill, Stepmaster, Stationary bike exercises
  • Write with the non-dominant hand daily

Interestingly these activities employ both sides of the body, thereby stimulating both sides of the brain. An ambidextrous brain is probably a more adaptive brain than one that is highly specialized in one hemisphere.

Remember, the more active you are the more your brain will be nourished with the blood-glucose and oxygen it demands. You will have a happy brain!

Brain Health Lifestyle: Mental Activity

By now you are well aware of the importance and power of “brain reserve,” the buildup of protective neuronal connections across the lifespan. Brain reserve is one outcome of brain health and is believed to be able to delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). I have proposed a five factor brain health lifestyle that includes Socialization, Physical Activity, Mental Stimulation, Nutrition, and Spirituality. Each of these major factors is critical to the health of everyone. As an integrated and proactive lifestyle, the activities and behaviors within each factor can help to shape a healthy brain, beyond what is generated from a passive brain.Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain fitness) is one of the major brain health lifestyle factors. Most people think of the brain as a cognitive or thinking system. While this is certainly true, your brain is far more than simply a thinking system. Your brain is responsible for your emotions, movement, sense of well being, imagination, creative and artistic side and so much more. The brain as a thinking system is certainly well accepted and deservingly so.Research has underscored particular activities that reduce the risk of dementia (brain healthy) and fit well into the mental stimulation slice of my brain health lifestyle. These include:

  • Fit Brains brain games
  • Reading and writing
  • Learning a second language
  • Sign Language
  • Travel
  • Board Game Playing
  • Computerized Brain Exercises
  • Puzzles
  • Musical instrument playing

Obviously, FitBrains provides an important tool and resource for you to stimulate your brain on an ongoing basis. The key element to making mental stimulation a brain health activity is to engage in the “novel and complex.” (e.g. brain games) Tasks that represent the novel and complex for you probably will stimulate your cortex and lead to the development of new neural connections. This is what leads to the buildup of brain reserve. In this scenario, brain fitness using activities such as FitBrains can be considered a health promoting activity, and one that should be included in a proactive brain health lifestyle.

Why Brain Health Matters

Health and healthy lifestyles have become a priority in the lives of more people than ever before. Millions of people walk or jog, engage in formal exercise, meditate, and abide by healthy diets all to maximize the healthy of their bodies. Interestingly, our culture, like so many before, prioritizes the health of the heart as most important. Indeed, the Egyptian royalty were buried with every organ removed except the heart because they believed the heart was the center of the universe.

We in the United States continue to prioritize the heart, a pump that perfuses blood throughout our body. We provide meaning and import to the heart it really does not deserve. For example, we ascribe love and emotion to the heart as when we say “I love you with all my heart or you broke my heart.” While common prose, it is really a silly statement. It is time to realize that our every thought, emotion, and motor behavior is due to the miraculous system of the human brain.

With recent research supporting the human brain as a highly dynamic, constantly reorganizing system (plasticity) capable of generating new brain cells and brain reserve, we are now able to apply a lifestyle that promotes health for the brain. Perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of our time is the fact that most do not even know the basics of this critical part of our being-our brain!

Brain Health is important because our commitment to a lifelong lifestyle that promotes development of brain reserve can enhance our ability to maintain our thinking abilities, our memory, and our “life story.” Many Americans are afraid of brain disease and fear losing their memory. Brain health is a proactive and positive means to do what is in our control to maximize and preserve our brain function.

I have proposed and published a “Brain Health Lifestyle” that is proactive and contains five major factors to form your Brain Health Pie:

  • Physical Activity
  • Mental Stimulation
  • Spirituality
  • Nutrition
  • Socialization

Together, these five components each have specific research-based activities that relate to brain health and development of brain reserve. FitBrains provides opportunity for brain games that is considered important to the mental stimulation piece of the brain health pie. I will outline each of the five major components to your brain health lifestyle in upcoming blogs.

Why Should I be interested in Brain Health?

More and more we hear and read about the supposed powers of mental exercise. While this seems to make sense it is natural to wonder how and why “brain fitness” is beneficial.

We have learned within the past decade that the human brain has the ability to generate new brain cells (neurogenesis). The hippocampus, a structure that lies deep in the middle of each temporal lobe and serves functions of memory, learning, and spatial representation, is the site of such neurogenesis. Interestingly, this is the exact site of neurogenesis established in rodents in the 1950s. There appears to be something critically important about the hippocampus with regard to new brain cell development.

Similar to rodent brains the human brain reacts to environmental input in generally predictable ways. Damaging, punishing, and negative input can do structural and functional damage to the hippocampus. In contrast, positive, nurturing, and stimulating input can help to foster structural and functional enhancements. As we noted earlier on this blog, the human brain seeks and enjoys mental stimulation and exposure to the “novel and complex.”

A daily brain workout (e.g. brain games) can help to provide the brain (cortex) the stimulation it seeks. Environments that are considered complex and novel by your brain will provide the most benefit particularly when compared to input that is rote and passive. Daily brain games that challenge the cortex will also help to build new cellular connections (synapses) that in turn reflect “brain reserve.” Recall, brain reserve is believed to delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

One of the greatest fears of the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, is the loss of memory and onset of dementia. A proactive approach to try and delay the onset of such loss and disease is a lifelong brain health lifestyle, part of which includes daily exposure to the novel and complex.