2. The 4 Pillars of Brain Maintenance

High­lights from Sec­tion 2: The 4 Pil­lars of Brain Maintenance

  • Thanks to life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, our lifestyles and actions play a mean­ing­ful role in how our brains phys­i­cal­ly change.
  • There is no “general solu­tion” to brain main­te­nance. A mul­ti-pronged approach cen­tered on nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise is rec­om­mend­ed for bet­ter brain health.

In Sec­tion 1, you learned about brain func­tions and neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty. As you will dis­cov­er in the present sec­tion, the idea of brain main­te­nance rests upon these two key con­cepts. Before focus­ing on brain train­ing in Sec­tion 3 we would like to give you now an over­all view of what one can do to main­tain good brain health.

Why a brain-healthy lifestyle is so important

The lat­est sci­en­tif­ic research shows that spe­cif­ic lifestyles and actions can, no mat­ter our age, improve the health and lev­el of func­tion­ing of our brains. Such improve­ment can hap­pen thanks to neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty that is, when the rate of cre­ation and sur­vival of new neu­rons in cer­tain parts of the brain is increased, or when the rate of cre­ation and sur­vival of synaps­es (the con­nec­tions between neu­rons) speeds up, or when a neu­ro­chem­i­cal envi­ron­ment is nur­tured in our brains to sup­port infor­ma­tion processing.

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Assorted Fruits & Vegetables

Nutrition and supplements (DHEA, Ginkgo Biloba, Omega‑3): separating myth from fact

The brain con­sumes con­sid­er­able amount of glu­cose. One of the ear­li­est sign of demen­tia is a decrease in the abil­i­ty of the brain to use glu­cose effi­cient­ly. As such a dys­func­tion is at the core of dia­betes, some neu­ro­sci­en­tists refer to Alzheimer’s Dis­ease as Type 3 diabetes.

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Stress management: exercise, relax, socialize, empower, biofeedback

Pro­longed expo­sure to high lev­els of stress can dam­age the brain. As part of a brain-healthy life-style it is essen­tial to man­age stress efficiently.

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Physical exercise: why aerobic exercise enhances neurogenesis and neuroplasticity

As lit­tle as three hours a week of brisk walk­ing has been shown to halt, and even reverse, the brain atro­phy (shrink­age) that starts in a per­son­’s for­ties, espe­cial­ly in the regions respon­si­ble for mem­o­ry and high­er cog­ni­tion. Exer­cise increas­es the brain’s vol­ume of gray mat­ter (actu­al neu­rons) and white mat­ter (con­nec­tions between neurons).

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Mental stimulation: building a Brain/ Cognitive Reserve with novelty, variety and challenge

The cog­ni­tive or brain reserve hypoth­e­sis states that it is pos­si­ble to build up the brain’s resilience to neu­ronal dam­age and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symp­toms. The con­cept of brain reserve stems from the repeat­ed obser­va­tion that the rela­tion­ship between clin­i­cal symp­toms and actu­al brain pathol­o­gy is not direct.

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Brain maintenance: cognitive enhancement first, Alzheimer’s delay second

Brain main­te­nance may play a role in post­pon­ing the emer­gence of demen­tia-relat­ed symp­toms. A sig­nif­i­cant amount of research has been con­duct­ed on healthy aging in the past two decades. A num­ber of fac­tors have been asso­ci­at­ed with reduced risks of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s disease.

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Summary: how to live a brain-healthy lifestyle

As a gen­er­al guide­line, what is good for the body is also good for the brain. Chron­ic stress reduces and can even inhib­it neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Phys­i­cal exer­cise has been shown to enhance brain phys­i­ol­o­gy in ani­mals and, more recent­ly, in humans. Men­tal Stim­u­la­tion strength­ens the synaps­es or con­nec­tions between neu­rons, thus improv­ing neu­ron sur­vival and cog­ni­tive functioning.

Keep read­ing.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewsletter

This new online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.

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