What makes us unique individuals? If we reduce the human equation to our simplest feature, most of us would say our brain, and our ability to think. So it’s no wonder that we are concerned about keeping our brain in tip-top shape throughout our lives!

There are six pillars of brain health: healthy diet, mental stimulation, quality sleep, stress management, an active social life, and regular exercise.1

Dietary choices that create health for our heart or metabolism also create brain health. The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reports that a high-carbohydrate diet is correlated with an 89 percent increased risk of mild cognitive impairment, while a high-fat diet is actually associated with a 44 percent decreased risk of mild cognitive insufficiency. Choosing a diet filled with healthy protein, colorful fruits and vegetables and healthy fat provides the brain with vital nutrients. Grain-based foods must become minimal in your diet if brain health is your goal. In addition, food choices that keep our blood sugar steady (often called “low-glycemic”) help us minimize damaging glucose highs and lows which are key contributors to brain decline.

Mental stimulation builds connection between neurons (or brain cells). The more we provide the opportunity for the brain to learn new skills, the more well connected these neurons become protecting each other from damage. It’s as if the surrounding cells hold each other in place and are sustained because of cross-linking.

A novel method of targeted brain stimulation is the practice of neurofeedback, which is guided exercise for the brain, or a learning modality designed to retrain brainwave patterns. The goal of all neurofeedback is to transform unhealthy, dysregulated brainwave imbalances into normal, healthy, organized patterns. In this way, the brain becomes more stable and is able to operate optimally and efficiently. This non-invasive method is approved by the FDA.

Quality sleep provides time for unwinding and reorganizing our brain data. Lack of sleep sends a message to our body that we’re under stress, which signals our brain to increase cortisol levels. High cortisol levels affect our overall health by increasing inflammation and also cause us to feel wired and easily agitated.

Stress management can be achieved by many methods. A Harvard study demonstrated that meditation (in 8 weeks at 27 minutes per day) increases the density of our hippocampus, the part of our brain associated with compassion, self-awareness and introspection, while also decreasing our sense of stress and anxiety. Meditation also creates brain wave patterns that support a calm, aware state in which we more easily choose to respond rather than react.

An active social life decreases the development of dementia. Those who stay involved with their communities, play sports, serve as volunteers, go out to new places and spend time with peers are half as likely to develop dementia as those with minimal social activities.2

Physical exercise has remarkable effects on brain longevity. Even a gentle walk three times a week builds new brain tissue. According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, exercise reduces our risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent.

A healthy lifestyle empowers us to change the course of our life experience by our choices. Every choice makes a difference! What choice will you make today?

Dr. Brossfield can be reached at (760) 610.7360.

References: 1) Helpguide.org; 2) Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois

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