It’s no surprise to hear that the most complex organ in the human body is the brain. Weighing in at a little over three pounds, it's the third-largest organ that gives meaning to the world around us. Providing us with the ability to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear, the communication center within our body receives hundreds of messages a day.
Our brain develops rapidly as infants and children and continues to grow into early adulthood until around the age of 25. With age we see that our brain begins to slowly shrink, beginning while we are in our thirties and forties, then more rapidly after age 60. Along with shrinking in size our brains also suffer deterioration, but there are some things we can do to slow down this process and encourage optimal brain function at every age.
What Does Brain Health Mean?
The brain plays a role in just about every function in the body. When the brain is unhealthy or impaired, functions of the body suffer. The human brain is composed of three parts: the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem. If one of these parts sustains an injury or becomes damaged, there is potential for imbalance throughout the body. Areas of the brain, referred to as lobes, correspond to different functions in different parts of the body, so an injury in the brain will likely represent itself as a physical or cognitive sign.
The largest part of the brain is called the cerebrum, and it is responsible for thinking, speaking, reading and all the senses. The cerebellum influences our balance and coordination. The stem of the brain controls involuntary actions like breathing and blinking. You can see that brain health is important when it comes to carrying out normal bodily functions.
Why Is Brain Health Important?
Your overall health is affected by the functioning of your brain. Often we see that people consider and prioritize heart health and physical wellness as they age, while overlooking the health of their brain. There is an emphasis placed on developmental brain health during our first years of life, then brain function becomes a concern when it begins to decline in later years. However, during the years in between development and decline, the complex organ that we depend on daily seldom gets the care and attention it deserves. In addition to physical functioning, our brain is also responsible for the essential parts of daily life needed for communication, decision making and problem-solving.
The importance of brain health is crucial to life, and there are some things we can do to ensure its health is life-long:
- Regular Exercise- Regular exercise helps lower chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes risk. It also slows down muscle and bone deterioration. Simple activities like walking, swimming, and even golfing help protect the brain.
- Diet and Lifestyle- Every nutrient you ingest powers every organ in your body. Many have heard of “brain food.” Food has the ability to help or hurt our brains. A diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains support brain wellness. Processed foods or foods high in salt or sugar can inflame the body which in turn can cause damage to the brain. Much like with other areas of our health, balance is important when it comes to your diet and brain health.
Lifestyle choices can play just as large of a role as eating healthy. Excessive alcohol and smoking increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, and dementia. Research shows that alcohol abuse increases memory loss as well as other illnesses.
- Mental Health- Engaging in mental exercises help synapses in the brain connect and fire off. Logic-based games are great at strengthening your mind. Many people do crosswords, word searches, sudoku, and other strategy-based games to keep their minds sharp. Some people enjoy the challenge of puzzles, working on old cars, or crafting. Certain areas of the brain light up when doing these activities that stimulate new cell growth and formation.
- Sleep- Sleep is a crucial part of brain health. A lack of sleep over time can inhibit many bodily functions, especially the operations of the brain. Your body also uses sleep to rest and repair itself. Without quality sleep, your body and brain cannot operate optimally. No two people are the same, we all have our own needs when it comes to rest. Some people feel energized getting 6 hours of sleep a night, while others need 8-9 hours.
- Healthy Environment- Your environment can play a significant role in healthy brain maintenance. Depending on where you live, you may find yourself exposed to different environmental toxins such as air pollution, water contaminants, heavy metal exposure, or pesticide overload. These toxins can increase brain deterioration and lead to an increased risk for neurological disease.
Another environmental factor is brain trauma or damage from physical injury. This could be the result of a car accident, sports injury, or other physical hit to the head. Your environment has the potential to play a huge role in the importance of brain health and the way it maintains function over time.
- Stay Social- A great amount of research shows that remaining social throughout life helps your brain. Continuing to build social networks of friends and family decreases risks of numerous degenerative diseases such as dementia, hearing loss, high blood pressure, and much more. Long periods of isolation have been linked with accelerating cognitive decline.
What Are The 5 Pillars Of Brain Health?
You are never too old to strengthen your brain. The Global Council on Brain Health has come up with the 5 Pillars of Brain Health to help slow down cognitive decline:
- Move- We have all heard the saying, “A body in motion, stays in motion.” Keeping the body moving whether, through dancing, sports, exercise, or any kind is the first pillar.
- Relax- Getting restful sleep and finding good stress-relieving techniques are crucial. However, this does not imply that being sedentary is beneficial.
- Nourish- Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Eat with friends, families, and neighbors, not in front of a television or fast food in your vehicle. Food is meant to nourish the whole body, not just your stomach.
- Discover- Do things you are passionate about. Take up hobbies and learn new things. Travel, meet new people, and go on new adventures. Spend time in nature.
- Connect- Grow your support system and social circle. You may consider volunteering somewhere or making friends in a gym class. Invest in people in your life.
These 5 Pillars of Brain Health can not only improve your brain functioning but can also improve your overall health and mental outlook.
What Is A Healthy Brain?
A healthy brain is usually determined by its ability to carry out regular brain processing. Communication between our brain and the rest of our body must be carried out along with other bodily functions necessary for daily life. Problem-solving, learning comprehension, decision making, and social interactions are all part of having a healthy brain. Being able to carry out these tasks effectively determines your brain health.
What is An Unhealthy Brain?
An unhealthy brain has experienced some sort of trauma or injury usually related to harmful lifestyle habits. Alcohol and substance abuse can cause a healthy brain to become unhealthy in a relatively short time. Eating an unhealthy diet can also result in not only an unhealthy body but an unhealthy brain. Environmental factors like toxins, pesticides, and pollution exposure also play a part in forming an unhealthy brain.
How Do You Exercise Your Brain?
There are a variety of different ways you can exercise your brain. Staying social can help keep certain areas of your brain active. Playing games of strategy and logic helps keep your mind sharp as well. Learning new skills like different languages, instruments, and traveling to new places helps keep your brain active. Decreasing your stress through meditation and physical exercise decreases the deterioration of your body and brain.
What Are Signs Of A Healthy Brain?
Do you have a healthy brain? There are several indicators that may suggest you are on the right track. These signs below suggest you have a healthy brain:
- You are in excellent physical health- You work out regularly and eat a healthy diet. You build muscle, have a good balance, and strong grip. You are a fast walker. You have good digestive health. Restful Sleep is a priority for you. You have
- You have a good memory- You don’t suffer from chronic forgetfulness. You can make good decisions and carry out day-to-day tasks without forgetting most things.
- You maintain relationships- You have a strong network of close friends and family.
- You feel younger than you are- You have confidence in your choices and can make decisions easily. You have learned not to let your emotions control you, but you control your emotions.
Through experience and life experience, you may grow into a person with a healthy brain. Some of these things are not easily acquired, and you must work to attain them. We are all capable of having a healthy brain with the right choices.