Tag Archives: brain

Everyday Brain Fitness

brainBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

” A strong body makes the mind strong.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Neuroscience tells us that physical exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.  Physical activity plays an essential role in maintaining a sharp mind.  According to Laura L. Carstensen, author of A long Bright Future and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, “The latest research shows that cognitive decline is not inevitable.  Although the brain does shrink slightly, it continues to make new neurons and fine-tune neural connections as we age. ”  If you want to reduce your lifetime risk of developing alzheimer’s disease and general dementia, aerobic exercise can help keep cognitive abilities sharp.  Exercise boosts the flow of blood to the brain, resulting in the release of brain chemicals that stimulate the formation of new neurons, work to repair cell damage and strengthen the synapses that connect brain cells.  

Exercise and physical activity are primary components of a healthy lifestyle.  Studies show that everyone, no matter their age or health condition, can increase their brain power by exercising regularly.  Exercise does not have to be strenuous to reap the benefits.  Brisk walking, cycling or other activities that get the body moving and the heart pumping for 150 minutes a week will stimulate the same brain activity.  According to a study done by the Department of Exercise and Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes at a time facilitates information processing and memory functions.  Regular exercise can result in an increase in brain size, which may be the best memory aid of all. 

Engage in novel and complex activities.  Mental stimulation translates to neurophysiological growth much the same way as aerobic exercise stimulates cardiovascular health.  Learning challenging new skills helps to keep your brain strong by promoting synaptic density and decreasing risk of developing neurogenerative disease.  Physical exercise in conjunction with brain training increases the chances of increasing cognitive skills.  Ballroom dancing or tennis are activities that include both physical and mental demands, which can have a greater impact on cognitive functioning.  It appears that the best brain workouts are those that include coordination, rhythm and strategy.  If you always walk the same route, change up by reversing the route or try a new one altogether. 

Find an exercise partner.  Exercising with a friend not only provides support to keep you on track and motivated, socializing during exercise also helps to exercise the mind.  Studies show that people who engage in social interactions display higher levels of cognitive performance and that these cognitive benefit boosts may occur almost immediately.  Communicating and interacting with others helps maintain strong connections that can have significant health-promoting benefits such as stress reduction and emotional bonding. 

If it’s good for the heart, it’s good for the brain.  The brain and the heart act in harmony to support life.  Nearly 25% of the oxygen and blood from every heartbeat is destined for the brain.  Lifestyle behaviors that benefit brain health have a similar benefit for the cardiovascular system.  Contrarily, brain function may decline as heart disease risk factors increase.  Risk factors that accelerate the brain function degenerative process, such as smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, are the same risk factors that promote heart disease, which can affect blood supply to the brain and other brain-heart interactions. 

Keep your brain and your heart healthy by making exercise a part of your daily routine.  Exercise boosts the production of proteins that stimulate brain cell growth, brings glucose and oxygen to the brain and helps neurons work optimally.  Adopting a brain healthy diet, limiting your intake of foods high in fat, dietary cholesterol and sugar, and managing your body weight are most effective at reducing risk factors when combined with physical and mental activity and social interaction. 

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Support Brain Health With Good Nutrition

Brain healthBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Diet and nutrition play a large role in brain development and function throughout your life.  Research shows that diet is one the most powerful influences on maintaining a healthy brain. Memory, attention span, and ability to learn all benefit from healthful foods.  Key nutrients, daily brain games, and smart lifestyle habits, such as getting adequate amounts of sleep and exercise, all help to keep brain cells healthy and prevent brain-damaging inflammation. 

Eating a well balanced, brain-healthy diet can help reduce your risk of chronic age-related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s diseaseGood nutrition and healthy eating patterns can improve your mental health and wellbeing.

Foods that boost brain power:

  • Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale are packed with antioxidants that are powerhouses for brain performance.  Antioxidants which neutralize free radicals can help optimize brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive diseases. 
  • Wild salmon.  Fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids contribute to improved brain processing power and cognition, and are believed to be essential for a healthy mind. Oily fish contains the omega-3’s  EPA and DHA in easily used forms that aid in reducing inflammation.
  • Blueberries are thought to help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effect of age-related conditions such as cognitive impairment and dementia.  Consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss. 
  • Nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamin E, which is associated with reduced cognitive decline.  Pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds provide zinc, vital for enhancing memory, learning, and thinking skills.  Flax seeds contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids used to build and protect healthy neurons of the brain and nervous system.
  • Avocados, high in monounsaturated fat, promote brain health by contributing to healthy blood flow and aid in lowering blood pressure.  High blood pressure is a risk factor in the decline of cognitive abilities.  Avocados are rich in oleic acid, a fatty acid which helps to build myelin.  Myelin, found in white matter of the brain, enhances information processing. 
  • Whole grains promote cardiovascular health and good blood flow to the body’s organ system, which includes the brain.  The ability to focus and concentrate comes from an adequate and steady supply of glucose.  Whole grains have a low glycemic index, meaning glucose is released slowly into the bloodstream, which helps support mental alertness by providing a continual supply of brain food and energy. 
  • Antioxidants found in citrus fruits, pomegranates, and colorful vegetables help protect the brain from free-radical damage. 
  • Modest amounts of caffeine, found in coffee, tea and dark chocolate, can improve attention span, reaction time and short term memory. 
  • Apples contain quercetin which offers powerful neuroprotection, arming brain cells against free radicals.  Most of the quercetin is found in the skin, so be sure to eat the peel to get the benefits.
  • Grapes, wine and dark chocolate contain flavonols and polyphenols which offer a short-term boost in cognitive skills and may prevent some cognitive impairments.  Purple grapes contain the phytonutrient resveratrol, known for its healthy effects on circulation.  Circulatory problems can contribute to dementia by decreasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.  Research suggests that polyphenols may help the brain stay healthy by promoting memory, learning and cognitive function, and by reducing toxicity and inflammation.
  • Brown rice contains high-energy B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and inositol for energy production and optimal brain health. 
  • Beans help stabilize blood glucose levels and aid in providing a steady flow of glucose to the brain, which is dependent on glucose for fuel. 

Foods to avoid for healthy brain function:

  • Trans-fats found in fried foods, margarine, bakery goods and fast foods, contribute to a series of health problems including heart-related issues, elevated cholesterol levels and obesity. Trans-fats slowly damage the arteries, increasing the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.  Trans-fats have been linked to brain shrinkage, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • Sugar and sugary products can interfere with memory and your ability to learn.  Chronic sugar consumption reduces the production of a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  Lowered levels of BDNF have been linked to depression and dementia, and a dulling of the brain’s mechanism that indicates when you have had enough to eat, contributing to obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Junk food affects brain chemicals associated with depression and anxiety, and interferes with the production of dopamine, a chemical that supports cognitive function, learning capacity, alertness, motivation, memory and the overall feeling of wellbeing and happiness.

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