Brain health is an emerging concept. A healthy brain helps people make sound decisions, think creatively, interact with society, and maintain emotional balance – just to name a few functions!
Our brain health naturally declines with age, which includes the changing size of our brains as well as cognition levels. As we age, the potential for developing neurological disorders increases, as does the need to preserve brain health. Certain neurological diseases a person can develop include stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias. According to a global burden of disease study, neurological disorders were the second-leading cause of death in 2016.
Our psychological well-being is directly tied to the well-being of our brains. Mental wellness incorporates our emotional, mental, and social successes and influences how we think, feel, and act on a daily basis. If we’re not prioritizing preventive measures to take care of our brains, our mental health can suffer, increasing a lack of fulfillment, feelings of stress, problems maintaining relationships, and more.
In general, brain health is a vital aspect of overall health and longevity, and keeping your brain functioning optimally in the short-term and long-term is an important aspect of taking care of your well-being.
How can we protect the brain?
Mental decline during the aging process is typical, but cognitive impairment doesn't have to be! There are many ways to keep the brain functioning sharply, allowing you to keep doing the things you love. Maintaining a healthy mind and body can fight the effects of aging on the brain.
In the latest episode of Integrative Nutrition’s A Health Coach Explains YouTube series, Carly, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, shares how we can protect our brains by focusing on not just secondary food – the food we put on our plates – but also primary food – the unique IIN concept of nourishing ourselves through other areas of our lives that affect our health, including our relationships, career, environment, and much more.
In addition to the lifestyle practices Carly outlines in the video above, according to the Alzheimer's Association, there are several essential lifestyle habits that can help preserve brain health:
Exercise your brain – Yes, you can also do a mental workout! By learning new skills and habits, the brain can create more connections between the cells to build up a cognitive reserve.
Stop smoking – Smoking changes the brain by creating extra nicotine receptors, making it hard to quit. New neural connections are good, but not ones that make and keep us addicted.
Protect your head – Brain injuries increase the risk of cognitive impairment and development of dementia. Practicing safety measures to prevent falls and injuries promotes mental well-being.
Prioritize sleep – Not getting a good night’s sleep can weaken the immune system, increase weight gain, and impair brain functions, including memory and emotion.
Take care of your mental health – Depression, anxiety, and exhaustion can increase the risk of cognitive decline. Having a healthy state of mind can positively impact the cognitive abilities of individuals as they age.
Proactively care for your brain.
These are just a few of the many steps a person can take to protect the brain. By adopting healthier lifestyle habits, people can drastically reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Whether starting at 20 or 60 years old, the key is starting somewhere! For more information about how to integrate physical exercises and mental health practices into your routine, check out these related blogs:
Vanessa Clermont, MS, RD, CDN, is a functional medicine dietitian at 5thandlyfe, based in New York City. She runs a private consulting practice and works with individuals on diabetes management, obesity prevention, and cancer nutrition.
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