What Does It Mean to Have a Healthy Brain?
Here in the United States, we’re obsessed with the health and fitness of our bodies (or at least the appearance of health and fitness). We worry about the health of specific organs, like our hearts, and we promote information about which foods and behaviors can keep them healthy.
However, we don’t talk much about the health of our brains, even though we rely on them for all our thoughts, feelings, and senses!
Brain health is a relatively new concept. Fortunately, in recent years, scientists have learned a lot about how we can help keep our brains healthy throughout our lives.
What Is Brain Health?
On one hand, your brain is an organ just like any other in your body. It’s made of tissue (mostly fat!), requires blood and oxygen, and develops and changes throughout your life.
On the other hand, your brain is the essence of who you are. It not only regulates the functions of all your other organs but creates the sensations, emotions, and memories that make you you.
Brain health (which scientists often call cognitive health) refers to your ability to remember, learn, plan, concentrate, and think clearly. When your brain is healthy, you can make the most of its amazing power to manage information, apply logic, make judgments, and learn from experiences.
Like other organs, our brains can suffer from disease, trauma, and wear and tear. Brain health is about minimizing the risk of disease, damage, and decline so your mind can perform at the level you’re used to for as long as possible.
A Healthy Brain Depends on a Healthy Body
Your brain relies on other organs, especially your heart, to do its job. So, your brain responds well to many of the behaviors and strategies that help your whole body stay healthy and fit.
To give your brain the environment it needs to thrive, try to:
- Move: Regular physical activity can help keep your body strong and your mind sharp. Experts say you should aim to exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes each session, but you don’t necessarily have to lift weights or run a marathon to improve your health. Take a brisk walk, dance, use the stairs instead of the elevator — any movement you can get in throughout the day helps!
- Eat nutritious foods: There’s always lots of debate over which foods are best for us, but almost all experts agree it’s best to cut back on meat (especially red meat) and processed foods in favor of more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and raw foods.
- Get enough quality sleep: Our bodies need sleep to rest and repair damage. Sleep needs vary from person to person, but studies show that most people do best with between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. If you find you’re always tired despite getting plenty of sleep, talk to your doctor; you may have a health issue like obstructive sleep apnea that’s compromising the quality of your sleep.
- Cut back or eliminate drugs and alcohol: Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs can damage our bodies and brains. When we’re young, our bodies repair this damage more easily, but it becomes harder to bounce back as we age. Different studies have reached different conclusions about what constitutes healthy alcohol consumption; based on your reading, you could conclude that a few alcoholic drinks each week can help you live longer or that any amount of alcohol will harm you. What we do know for sure is that smoking, using illegal drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine, or drinking alcohol in large quantities both damages your brain directly and raises your risk for various diseases that can affect your cognitive health.
Boost Your Brain Health With These Additional Tips
In the past few decades, scientists have started to pay more attention to brain health. We still have a lot to learn about how our brains work and what kinds of behaviors and activities promote healthy brains. However, we know that a few simple lifestyle choices seem to lower a person’s risk for cognitive decline. Based on what we know so far, it helps to:
- Pick up a new hobby, try a new activity, or engage with puzzles and games: Taking on a new mental challenge is like exercise for your brain. This isn’t just a metaphor, either: when we learn how to perform a new activity or solve a new type of problem, our brain actually goes through physical changes that can help “clean” the brain. These changes may even help slow down or prevent the progression of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Connect with other people: Scientists aren’t sure exactly why, but people who stay socially active deal with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia less often than people who are isolated. One possible explanation is that connecting with people and having conversations works much like learning new hobbies: it stimulates the brain and forces it to make new connections, which can help slow or prevent some of the physical changes that cause cognitive decline.
- Improve your balance: As we get older, we become more likely to injure ourselves in a fall. When a fall causes an impact to the head, it can cause brain damage. Activities like yoga, Pilates, and barre not only help us move and stay fit but also improve our balance, which can reduce our risk for a fall.
- Eat brain-healthy foods: Scientists believe certain foods can help our brains build and repair cells. We still have a lot to learn about which foods are most effective and how they work, but experts currently believe we can help our brains stay healthy by eating foods that include:
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (oatmeal, barley, whole-grain bread and pasta)
Participate in the ASSIST Study and Get a Personalized Brain Health Report
Savonix and Boston University School of Public Health recently teamed up to launch the ASSIST Study, a groundbreaking three-year study of brain health. The ASSIST Study is open to all United States residents ages 22 and older, and you can participate in the study from home in just 45 minutes.
When you participate in the ASSIST Study, you’ll get a free personalized report that compares your cognitive abilities to those of other study participants. Even more important, you’ll contribute valuable data that may help researchers learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and develop new treatments for dementia.
Your health status doesn’t matter, so you can participate in the study whether you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or you have no known health issues. You only need to meet one other requirement to participate:
- You must have an Apple iPhone® 5s or later with iOS version 11.0 or later, and you must use the Health app to track your health information
- You must have an Apple iPad® with iOS version 11.0 or later or an Android™ device, such as a tablet or phone, running version 6 or later
Ready to Join the Study?
You can join the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia right now. To get started, go to www.assiststudy.org and select the button that says, “Join the Study.” Follow the instructions and do your part today!
12 foods to boost brain function. (n.d.). Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324044.php
Better habits, better brain health. (2017, September). Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/better-habits-better-brain-health
What is brain health? (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from https://brainhealth.nia.nih.gov/