Most people today don’t worry about their brain’s health. People try to get skinny and bulk up, but neglect the most important organ in their body. Our brain stores every memory we have, reigns over every decision we make, and shapes our personality. Think about what happens to people who end up contracting Alzheimer’s disease. Their memories slip away one by one. Eventually, they can’t even remember who their family and friends are. At the later stages, their brains have sustained such damage they can’t even feed or dress themselves. The next time you cut up food, or buckle your belt, don’t forget your brain is the one responsible. People with Alzheimer’s can’t even recognize themselves in a mirror. To make matters worse, if you live to be 85, there is a 50% chance you will suffer from Alzheimer’s symptoms. 1
Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to keep your brain healthy. And keeping your brain healthy will greatly lower your chances of experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms as you age. 2 The rest of this article will outline 6 simple things you can do to make sure your brain stays in shape.
1. Use Your Brain Every Day
This one might seem obvious, but many people overlook it. Research shows that our brain is comparable to any other muscle in our body. Through use we can grow and strengthen it, or we can let it wither away. 3 Instead of spending your free time watching TV, read a book, play a video game, or practice some brain teasers. The more challenging the activity the better. Someone who spends their time playing chess and learning new languages will stay mentally sharp into their 90s. Someone who sits in the same chair on watches TV will likely be in a confused, Alzheimer’s induced haze.
2. Engage in Physical Exercise
This might surprise some of you, but physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. When you engage in strenuous aerobic exercise, your brain produces greater amounts of a very important protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) 4 The BDNF protein is one of the most important proteins found in your brain. Having greater levels of this protein speeds up neurogenesis in your hippocampus. In simpler terms, your brain produces brain cells faster. Furthermore, BDNF protects new brain cells and improves their survivability. Physical exercise is an easy way to keep your brain cells strong and plentiful.
3. Keep Your Stress Levels Down
Human beings are the only mammals that can become stressed from their thoughts alone. Because of this, we don’t always have a release for our stress. When things don’t go the way we wanted them to, we can dwell on the negatives for extended periods of time. Stressful relationships and jobs are the most common culprits. When you become stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol quickly travels to your brain where it begins to wreak havoc. 5 Think of cortisol as the opposite of BDNF. In fact, BDNF helps protect your brain from cortisol. High levels of cortisol damage and destroy brain cells, chronically high levels may even limit the production of BDNF. If stress is a common problem for you, find ways to reduce it. Your brain will thank you.
4. Get Enough Sleep Every Night
Besides stress, sleep deprivation is the next best way to flood your brain with coritsol. A study cited in the book Brain Rules, by John Medina, discussed the effects stress has on the entire body. Scientists purposefully deprived (less than 4 hours of sleep per night) a man of sleep for 6 days. Then they observed how his body chemistry changed. Shockingly, his body chemistry, brain included, reverted to that of a 60 year olds. It took the man almost a full week of getting adequate sleep each night before his body chemistry returned to normal. Don’t starve your brain and your body of the sleep it needs to function properly.
5. Consider Taking Nootropic Supplements
The general term for nootropics are “smart drugs”, but I think of them more like “vitamins for your brain.” Studies have shown the nootropic called “Noopept” can stimulate your brain’s production of both BDNF and NGF proteins. 6 The NGF is very similar to BDNF and provides very similar benefits. The “beginner’s nootropic”, Piracetam, enhances the functionality of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine. (ACh) 7 Neurotransmitters are electrochemical signals your brain cells use to communicate with each other. ACh is important for your ability to learn and remember things. Correct nootropic use is one way to keep your brain in shape, it is just a bit more costly than the others.
6. Avoid Foods Containing Trans Fats
Not all fats are created equal. Certain fats, those that contain omega-3s are good for you. Trans fats, on the other hand, can actually damage your brain. Believe it or not, your brain is composed of mostly fat. Brain tissue, cell membranes, and myelin sheaths all contain fat. Trans fats replace the good fat in your brain. Too much of it causes your brain cells to lose functionality and die. Start checking the boxes at the grocery store to see if your foods contain any trans fats, and do your best to avoid them.
1. Wellington Park, Alzheimer’s Statistics: http://www.wellingtonparc.com/FAQ_Alzheimers_Disease.pdf
2. Katzman R, Terry R, DeTeresa R, Brown T, Davies P, Fuld P, Renbing X, Peck A (1988). Clinical, pathological, and neurochemical changes in dementia: a subgroup with preserved mental status and numerous neocortical plaques. Annals of Neurology. 23(2):138-44.
3. Article: You Can Grow Your Intelligence – New Research Shows the Brain Can Be Developed Like a Muscle http://www.nais.org/publications/ismagazinearticle.cfm?ItemNumber=150439
4. Exercise training increases size and hippocampus and improves memory: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/01/25/1015950108.abstract
5. This is your hippocampus on cortisol http://promega.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/this-is-your-hippocampus-on-cortisol/
6. Noopept stimulate the expression of NGF and BDNG http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19240853
7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16459490 Piracetam- an old drug with novel properties