THE INFINITE POWER OF THE BRAIN
Laughing out loud, scratching your ear, feeling a love-rush for your children, and reading this article… what could they possibly have in common? They share the same “master of operations” – your brain; a mysterious 1.5kg organ that runs on electrical impulses and chemicals.
Have you ever wondered what happens in your brain when you finally learn to play the piano or dance a waltz? Repeating the action over and over re-activates the same brain “message circuits” each time, until your brilliant brain actually changes its own structure or function to make these circuits even stronger. This amazing ability of the brain to actually change and adapt as a result of experience, is called “plasticity”. In just the same way, when a particular message circuit is not used for a long time, it withers away. Hence the old adage “use it or lose it!”.
New Zealand has an aging population and with increasing numbers of older people, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are on the rise.
Over 42,000 New Zealanders already have Alzheimer’s and this number is set to double every 20 years. While our genetic makeup influences our disease risk, it is increasingly evident that our lifestyle choices can reduce our risk of a wide range of brain diseases.
TOP TIPS FOR BRAIN HEALTH
Give your brain new workouts often. Activities that challenge and stimulate us intellectually offer the greatest brain health benefits. Break out of old routines and master a new skill. Become a Sudoku fanatic or start doing crosswords. Why not learn a new language; start writing, or learn a new computer skill?
MOVE IT, MOVE IT
The more physically active you are, the more likely your brain is to stay healthy as you age. Regular aerobic exercise can help prevent (or at least delay) the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Physically fit older people have faster reaction times and learn new information more quickly compared with the unfit. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least three, and preferably five, times a week. Choose a physical activity that involves plenty of people contact and reap even greater brain health rewards.
Humans are social creatures, and meaningful contact and connection with others is vital for our mental, emotional and physical health, including our brain health. A large study showed that people who regularly engage in leisure activities involving social connection, were less likely to develop dementia. Invest time and energy in building relationships and friendship with others, and one day your brain will thank you.
EATING FOR BRAIN POWER
Nourish your brain with the raw ingredients it needs to restore and renew itself, well into old age. Vital brain foods include: antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables and berries; oily fish, flax oil and nuts and seeds for vital omega 3 fatty acids; and a daily, balanced multivitamin and mineral formula. Studies show that women who eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, have lower rates of decline in learning and memory tests when they reach their sixties.
HEALTHY HEART, HEALTHY BRAIN
We now know that the same lifestyle and dietary factors that contribute to heart disease also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related decline in brain function. Protect your brain health by staying slim, and keeping cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure in a healthy range.
You’ll help prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the likelihood of old age dementia.
REST AND RELAX
The brain needs 7–8 hours of quality sleep every night for optimum health. Other brain-healthy choices include minimising stress, avoiding cigarette smoke and other social drugs, and limiting alcohol consumption to two to four glasses a week.
With acknowledgements to the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand.