Optimizing brain health is crucial to ensure individuals can reach their full potential in terms of both health and well-being. By optimizing brain health, we can preserve and enhance brain structure and function, reduce the risk of developing central nervous system disorders, and promote overall health. It is important to recognize that brain health is influenced by a complex interplay of genetics, environment, and circumstances. Various interconnected factors impact brain functioning and structure from before conception until the end of life. These determinants shape the way our brains develop, adapt, and respond to stress and adversity at different stages of neurodevelopment. To achieve the highest level of brain health, it is essential to address these determinants, minimize risk factors, and enhance protective factors.
In adulthood and older age, there are additional opportunities for intervention as the brain continues to adapt to our circumstances. Several determinants have been identified to have an impact on brain health during mid-life and later years. These include physical activity, diet, tobacco and alcohol use, cognitive activity, and metabolic factors such as weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified several fundamental elements that contribute to an effective brain health and cognitive fitness program, including:
Regular exercise has been shown to slow down age-related brain deterioration and preserve cognitive abilities that typically decline with age. Exercise stimulates the development of new nerve cells and strengthens the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in a more efficient, plastic, and adaptable brain, leading to improved performance. Additionally, exercise helps lower blood pressure, reduces the risk of vascular diseases such as stroke, and promotes a healthy blood flow to the brain.
Just like the rest of the body, the brain relies on proper nutrition for optimal functioning. A balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains nourishes both the body and the brain. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods, salt, and refined sugars can contribute to inflammation and vascular diseases, which can cause damage to brain tissues.
Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining brain health. During sleep, which occupies about one-third of our day, important processes take place that benefit the brain. It supports brain function, strengthens the immune system, and impacts various bodily systems. Getting adequate and restful sleep is essential for staying sharp, focused, and capable of making sound decisions. While sleep needs vary across different age groups, a general recommendation is to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Consistent and rejuvenating sleep provides the brain with the opportunity to eliminate metabolic waste and optimize memory.
Maintaining strong social connections is beneficial for brain health. Engaging in social activities and forming meaningful relationships can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can have a negative impact on the brain. Studies have also shown that having a robust social network is associated with a lower risk of dementia, lower blood pressure, and increased life expectancy. Socializing with others stimulates the brain, keeping it active and promoting cognitive function while potentially preventing cognitive decline.
Engaging in mentally stimulating activities promotes the growth of new connections between nerve cells and may even facilitate the generation of new brain cells, enhancing neurological plasticity and building a functional reserve to mitigate future cell loss. Any activity that challenges and exercises your brain can contribute to its development and well-being. Reading, taking courses, solving puzzles, engaging in math problems, and exploring hobbies that require both mental effort and manual dexterity, such as drawing or painting, can all have positive effects on brain health.
Extensive research has consistently demonstrated that these interventions can help individuals strengthen their brain health, regardless of their current state of health.
A future with supplements?
Emerging evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in maintaining brain health and reducing the risk of dementia.Omega-3s have been found to enhance blood flow in the brain, reduce inflammation, and support higher levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger that influences mood and brain function. Alzheimer's UK states that omega-3 is crucial for brain health throughout life, from early cognitive development in fetuses to learning and memory in adults. Brain cells with higher omega-3 levels in their membranes are believed to have improved communication with other cells, which is vital for optimal brain function. Something that we at Supernormal find extremely interesting and promising, as we head into a more demanding and moving future.