Thoughts on brain health

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We hear a lot about heart health, but what about our brain health?

The ability to make and recall memories, learn new and exciting things, make good judgment, even weight management and healthy food choices all start with what’s happening inside your cranium.

How healthy your brain remains over the course of a lifetime has a lot to do with lifestyle. What you eat and drink, your level of movement and exercise, your social life, how you manage stress and your ability to keep stress at a minimum, and of course, how you recover from it all with the quality of your sleep, are all very important factors in the function of your brain.

Ways to keep your brain operating at a high level

Nutrition

As the old saying goes: You are what you eat. We at Doctors To You always start every conversation about health and preventative measures by talking about the food you consume, and how it can help keep you from having to call us.

A process called oxidation damages brain cells as we get older, mainly due to stress and other things in our everyday environment. But the good news is, we can make food choices to help reduce or at least slow down that process.

Eat more fat—but good fat. “Our brains need these fats to function properly. Studies also show that eating high quantities of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to reduced rates of major depression, but our bodies are unable to produce them. This means it’s important that we include these fat sources in our diets.

Our brains are about 60 percent fat. So that means that the brain needs fat in order to work at its highest level. “And even though the brain accounts for such a small portion of our bodyweight, it utilizes 20 percent of the body’s metabolic energy.”

So choose fatty fish like salmon and sardines, load up on nuts and seeds like walnuts and almonds, eggs, and incorporate more olive oil and other health virgin oils and monounsaturated fats into your diet to keep your brain running smoothly. Vitamin E in many of these foods is also especially helpful to the brain.

Consume your antioxidants. Aging not only takes its toll on our bodies but also on the brain, due to free radicals that break down cells.

“Fortunately, the body has a natural defense system to protect itself against oxidative stress: antioxidants. These substances, which help shield the body from the destruction of free radicals, include well-known nutrients such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and selenium.”

You also want to keep your food colorful (flavonoids), so foods like berries, greens, wine, turmeric, and chocolate are especially good for brain health.

Sleep

For so long, sleep was overlooked, but the benefits are numerous. “The brain generates two distinct types of sleep—slow-wave sleep (SWS), known as deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM), also called dreaming sleep.” This makes sleep responsible for cleaning out the brain and getting rid of useless thoughts and memories that would otherwise overwhelm us, it keeps memories intact and helps maintain order, and it helps you to preserve the things you’ve learned.

So while you’re asleep, your brain is doing a number of things that give you the ability to function at all when you wake up. In fact, “the evidence suggests having healthy sleep patternsis key to having a healthy and well-functioning brain.”

Movement and exercise

People who exercise regularly have less of a chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s important to find something you love to do that keeps you moving, whether it’s a daily walk or run, or something more intense, like a sport.

Fitness also means not only strengthening your body but also improving your mental prowess. Reading, playing chess, or doing crosswords can contribute to staying mentally fit, and it also helps reduce your chances of developing brain diseases like dementia.

Social

The social component like most aspects of our health is severely underrated. In fact, just eating with friends or family can contribute to the reduced impact of stress and depression, and a great social life has been linked to a longer, happier life.

This is why it’s important to stay socially active as we get older—the isolation and loneliness can lead to more than just a diminished quality of life, but also the loss of brain function.

“With this in mind, it’s important to promote social engagement among older adults before cognitive decline as well as throughout the stages of this form of dementia… [Test subjects] with greater leisurely cognitive activity in their midlife, including social engagement experienced a significant delay in the onset of dementia.” So as you age, make sure to keep an active social life for your own brain’s benefit.

Doctors To You had got the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Kogan to talk about the many aspects of integrative health. But we asked him about the recent influx athletes, namely retired pro football players, suffering from CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), “a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells.”

Take a listen o Dr. Kogan’s insight about brain diseases like CTE:

So to maintain your brain health, be mindful of what you eat, how often you exercise both your body and mind, the quality of your sleep, and the strength of your social circle.

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