What a great time to be alive if you are interested in your own brain and how to promote its health! With the daily reports of a new finding on how to promote brain health, the development of new companies with products for brain fitness (e.g. brain games), and with the boomers generating a booming interest in this part of their being, we really are in the “golden era of brain health.”
I am so very fortunate to have been involved with brain health more than a decade ago and to witness what I described then as the emerging “Brain Wave” that was coming. It is here and we will all be better for the fact that the human brain has found its way onto the radar screen of health.
A national and world wide discussion of the human brain with a focus on proactive lifestyle towards promotion of brain health is a great and needed thing. Dementia is a real problem and a growing concern. We have the ability to be proactive and to focus on an optimistic and positive path forward as we try to implement research-based behaviors to brain reserve. By building our own brain reserve across our lifespan we probably increase our chances of delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The next step to this growing brain wave is for the governmental bodies to pass legislation that incorporates national emphasis on the brain similar to what we have done for the heart; for health care payers to include incentives for leading a brain health lifestyle that might recognize lifelong learning, brain fitness, use of pedometers, diet, and meditation as critical ingredients to brain health, and for continued innovation in the business world to apply research to the market.
What a great day to be interested in promoting your own brain health!
A study published in online Neurology 3-27-08 indicates belly fat is linked to increased risk of dementia. Rachel Whitmer, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research noted that belly fat increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, her research on 6,583 men and women ages 40-45 living in northern
California found that belly fat was also related to increased risk of dementia.
Indeed those who were obese (30 pounds or more over a healthy weight) and had collected belly fat in their 40s were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia during the 30 to 40 year study. Even those who were not obese, yet had extra weight around the waist or belly, were 1.8 times more likely to develop dementia compared to those who were lean all over.Whitmer stated that “it is not simply about weight, but where you carry your weight.” She noted that people who are predisposed to carry their fat in their belly region may be at risk. Fat cells in the stomach secrete hormones that may play a role in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and now perhaps dementia.
The good news is that anyone with belly fat in their 40s can adopt a lifestyle of diet and exercise that can reduce such fat and reduce the risk of disease related to the fat. Time to get moving and eating healthier!
We have no cure or perfect prevention against progressive dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, research over the past decade or more has established consistent links between lifestyle and the ability to delay the onset of such dementias. I have proposed a “Brain Health Lifestyle” to include five major factors: (1) physical activity, (2) mental stimulation, (3) socialization, (4) nutrition, (5) and spirituality.
A recent interview on ABC News suggested that physical exercise may be the best means of preventing AD today, better than medications, intellectual activity, and supplements. Studies on mice bred to develop plaques in their brains consistent with AD were exposed to an exercise regimen or not. Those mice that exercised had 50 to 80 percent less plaque than the brains of mice that were passive. Other studies have demonstrated generation of new brain cells in animals that exercise and a relationship in humans between physical exercise and increased cognitive performance.
One important point is that our body does not operate in a fragmented manner. I describe the brain and body as a miraculous symphony. One system directly impacts another and both health and disease effects can be experienced as a result throughout the body. Exercise is one example of a behavior that has positive impact on multiple systems of the body including the brain. The same can be said for the other four brain health lifestyle behaviors noted above.
While I am not yet sure that any one behavior such as exercise is better than another in promoting brain health, I do champion regular exercise as a very important behavior with positive brain health effects. My view is to approach brain health from an integrated manner using the five part brain health lifestyle. This approach fits with the complex integrated reality of our bodies and brains.
Everyone experiences moments when we feel sluggish or perhaps hyperactive. Sometimes our brains feel like they are stuck in mud while other times we can solve almost any problem we confront. Interestingly, these cycles of mental energy or arousal may occur within a 24 hour time period, our circadian rhythm.
Some of us have our creative time or the time we perform best mentally in the morning hours. Others have their greatness expressed in the evening hours. There is no right versus wrong, simply different. Some people who work after midnight or in a mine shaft that has no natural light can experience a different circadian rhythm than those who work during the day and have exposure to natural sunlight. Sleep disorders, depression, and cognitive problems can result from altered sleep wake cycles.
There is no clear explanation for when arousal is highest in some and lowest for others. Some factors that can enhance or reduce mental energy or arousal include the following:
- Amount of daily exercise
- Amount of sleep in 24 hours
- Types of foods consumed
- Water intake and hydration
- Exposure to sunlight
- Prescribed Medication and substance abuse
- Mental challenge during the day
One of the best methods to increase mental energy is to increase blood flow to the brain through movement. This can include a brisk walk, aerobics, brain games, swimming, and even a dance. Fresh air can also rejuvenate a sluggish brain and increase water intake to remain hydrated during the day. Sugar can put the brain to sleep in some cases or make it feel like a good nap is needed. Caffeine can provide a quick boost, but may result in a type of mental crash later in the day.
It is a good idea to first identify what periods of the day your brain is alert and productive and when it is sluggish. Try to identify what factors might be causing the onset of sluggishness and consider the brain tips suggested above.
A mentally alert brain is critical to health and to productivity.
The market has witnessed a surge in the brain fitness software industry. More companies are purporting to be the best at training your brain and helping to sharpen cognitive or thinking skills.
One primary concern for this industry is to create software that is both fun and personally relevant. In fact, a primary focus of FitBrains is to be the leader of fun and personal relevance within the industry of brain fitness software. I believe that brain games can be both fun and have real life and personal value to a consumer.
We are all confronted with life’s daily challenges, each of which places demands on our brain for solutions or action. It is within this arena that FitBrains has captured the personal value: creating brain games that actually tap into real world challenges for the consumer. How many times have you lost a pair of socks in the laundry, forgotten the name of someone you met, misplaced your car keys or perhaps the car itself in the parking garage? Life provides us with real world games and the opportunity for real world mental exercise.
FitBrains takes this reality and champions brain fitness for the fun and personally relevant. We believe your arousal level will increase and you will be more deeply engaged in our brain games. Why? The task is more valuable or meaningful to you as a person. Companies that simply develop memory games or language games without the value of personal relevance are simply tasks to be completed. Personalization sparks long term commitment by the consumer for a healthy brain.
Your brain operates electrically and chemically. Neurochemicals form the dynamic foundation for our thoughts and emotions. Many neurochemicals have been identified while many more have not. Neurochemicals important to mood include Serotonin, Neuropinephrine, Neuroadrenaline, and Dopamine. These neurochemicals remain in healthy balance for most of us, but for some there is imbalance and a mood disorder can result.
Effects of a mood disorder such as depression or mania include functional decline, interpersonal difficulty, and cognitive impairment. Depression is far more common than realized and represents a major chronic illness similar to high blood pressure. Depression not only affects the specific person, but it can also affect negatively those close to the patient and to potential colleagues. Depression and mania impairs thinking by reducing focus, attention, memory, and ability to execute plans. A depressed brain cannot process as deeply as necessary and this can result in rather significant cognitive impairment at times. Uncontrolled mania results in high distractibility, poor attention, and generally impaired cognitive functions across the board.
Treatments for mood disorder are effective and include use of antidepressants, mood stabilizers for mania, psychotherapy, and following a brain health lifestyle as espoused by Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com). Use of software similar to that of FitBrains that helps to stimulate mental activity can also be of some use for a brain that may be sluggish. The most important thing is to first identify depression when it arises, take it seriously, and get some help.
Here is part 2 to the inital brain health blog from Dr. Nussbaum
Your Brain Health
1. Brain health begins in the womb and needs to be promoted across your lifespan.
2. Engage in the novel and complex not the rote and passive.
3. Consider the following Brain Health Lifestyle to build up your brain reserve:
Five Domains of the Brain Health Lifestyle: Socialization
Do not isolate or segregate as you get older. People who isolate have a higher risk for dementia.
Join groups and social organizations in your community.
Maintain and build your friendship and family network.
Do not retire.
Walk between 7,000 and 12,000 steps daily. Walking several times a week reduces the risk of dementia.
Buy yourself a pedometer to remind yourself to walk and to keep track of your daily steps.
Dance as this is a behavior that reduces the risk of dementia.
Garden and Knitting reduce the risk of dementia.
Aerobic exercise will help the heart and thereby feed the brain with the necessary blood and oxygen. It also promotes cognitive functioning such as memory and is now believed to relate to positive structural changes in the brain.
Use both sides of your body more often: Become ambidextrous.
Play Fit Brains brain games
Learn a second language.
Read and write (use your nondominant hand) on a daily basis: the more complex the better.
Learn sign language as it increases IQ and increased IQ reduces the risk of dementia.
Play board games as board game playing reduces the risk of dementia.
Travel reduces the risk of dementia because it involves a new and complex environment.
Play a musical instrument.
Listen to classic music as it helps to increase learning.
Pray on a daily basis as it enhances your immune system.
Attend regularly a formal place of worship at it relates to better quality of life and longevity.
Learn to meditate in order to slow down. Animals exposed to environments that are too stimulating demonstrate slowed brain development.
Learn relaxation procedures with deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
Slow down and do not be afraid to say “no”.
Eat 80% of what you intend to eat at each meal. Reasonable caloric restriction can increase your longevity.
Eat with utensils and you will eat less and also eat healthier foods.
Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. This includes fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring. Several ounces of salmon weekly reduce the risk of dementia. Walnuts and unsalted nuts are also good for you.
Increase your intake of antioxidants. This includes Vitamins C and E. Colored fruits (grapes, apples, cantaloupe, and berries) and vegetables are good for you. The FDA recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
Decrease your intake of processed foods and red meats. Lean meat such as chicken breast without skin is relatively okay.
Green leafy vegetables are good for you.
Eat one sit down meal with others a day. This activity provides many brain boosting effects at once (classic music, language, eating with utensils, slowing down, eating healthier foods).