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Posted on February 26, 2014 at 6:00 am
by Ellen Peters
Last time, Dr. Paul Nussbaum, author of Save Your Brain: 5 Things You Must Do to Keep Your Mind Young and Sharp, spoke to SCLD about why it is important to engage your brain. Read about it here. This week, Dr. Nussbaum discusses lifestyles that help achieve brain health.
What are the 5 critical lifestyle areas necessary to achieve brain health?
Dr. Nussbaum’s brain health lifestyle ® is a proactive and lifelong shaping of the human brain for health. The five major areas of my lifestyle include Nutrition, Spirituality, Socialization, Mental Stimulation, and Physical Activity.
Nutrition and Brain Health:
Your brain is composed of 60% fat and it is this lipid substance that insulates the neurons to promote efficient and quick information processing. Particular foods rich in Omega-3s or “good fats” such as fish, unsalted nuts like almonds and walnuts, and green leafy vegetables are quite good for your brain. The federal government recommends 8 ounces of fish a week as a healthy dose of natural Omega-3s through fish.
A second major food group for brain health are the antioxidants, a fancy word for “fruits and vegetables.” The governmental recommendation is for daily consumption of fruits and vegetables is 6-fist full servings. Antioxidants help to rid the body of toxins known as “free radicals.”
I suggest you try to get your Omega-3s and antioxidants in natural foods.
Our brains were designed to become acutely anxious so that we could run or fight animals that wanted to eat us. Today, we do not really have animals chasing us to eat us, but our brain still has the ability to sound off the alarm bells. When this occurs, our brain tells our heart to beat fast, our lungs to expand, our biceps to expand, our digestion to stop, and our reproductive system to stop. The other thing that occurs is that we stop learning. Have you noticed some people in your social circle complaining that they are not “remembering as well.” Many times this is because people are too stressed, to anxious, and too overwhelmed.
We can calm the structures of our brains that set the alarm bells off by engaging in deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, prayer, meditation, yoga, and simply giving yourself 30 minutes a day alone. I recommend these practices on a daily basis two to three times a day.
A brain that isolates and segregates is a brain that will atrophy and die. Remember, brain health is about “novelty and complexity” not passivity and rote processing. Being with other humans is chemically and socially engaging and stimulating to our brains. Loneliness has been found to increase our risk of dementia. It is important to build your network of friends, to always maintain a role and purpose in your life, to forgive others, and to never retire from life.
This is all about the “novel and complex”, the building of brain resilience via dendritic growth and connectivity. Remember, you want your brain to look like a jungle filled with “branch life connections.” Such a brain can delay onset of disease and really represents the model of brain health. You get the resilience by doing new and complex activities. Such activities can include learning a new language, travel, playing board games or doing computer based brain exercises, playing a musical instrument, reading and writing, and even improvisation. Try to minimize the rote and passive and try some novel and complex activities.
Every time your heart beats, 25% of the blood from that heartbeat goes directly to your 3 pound brain! This is why physical activity and movement are so important to the brain. Children who are physically active do better in school relative to sedentary children. Older adults who are physically active are healthier cognitively.
Walk one mile a day briskly.
Do aerobic exercise three times a week.
Ride a bike.
Most importantly, take the time to assess where your lifestyle is at this time and try to make a few small changes to strengthen those areas of the brain health lifestyle ® that need some work.