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Brain Health: It's Not Rocket Science

Rocket Science Illustration

“It’s not rocket science.” You may be surprised to learn that the familiar idiom, used to refer to something relatively simple, applies to brain health. Your surprise would be justified; the brain, with all its structures, lobes, folds, connections, circuitry, and changes, is an exceptionally complex organ and we still don’t fully understand it. However, while wholly understanding the brain may currently be as unattainable as rocket design (apologies to any actual rocket scientists who may be reading this), caring for the brain is relatively simple: eat well; exercise regularly; and spend your days engaged in activities and your nights getting good sleep.

This simple formula, along with management of any chronic health conditions, stress, and risk of injury, has been shown to maintain or improve brain health. Optimal brain health means enhanced memory and thinking, neurocognitive protection, and/or delayed onset or slowed progression of neurological conditions*. One of the most common questions we get, as neuropsychologists, is “how can I improve my memory?” And the answer is invariably: “eat well; exercise regularly; stay busy; and get enough sleep.”

This will look different for each of us. “Eating well” for us might mean the Mediterranean diet, while “eating well” for our neighbor might mean making food choices based on carbohydrate content. Your medical doctors, nurses, and nutritionists are always the best source of personalized dietary advice. Similarly, you should always discuss your exercise goals and plans with your providers. Research has consistently shown that moderate aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial for brain health. However, it is most important that you find some type of movement that you enjoy and that you can do consistently. Strength training, yoga, Pilates, and good old fashioned walking are also beneficial for physical and mental health. Stay tuned for our next blog post, covering the best spots to walk in Cincinnati.

Stick with us as we consider another familiar phrase: “use it or lose it.” Research has shown that people who regularly use their brains to engage in stimulating and enjoyable activities are more likely to maintain normal memory and cognition throughout the aging process, rather than “lose” their thinking abilities. Again, activity level looks different from person to person. While some of us enjoy reading novels and considering “whodunnit?,” others want to read nonfiction to learn everything they can about history. Others enjoy card games, travel, socializing, work or volunteering, caretaking for grandkids, puzzles, brain games…. The list goes on and there truly is something for everyone. Finally, getting enough restful sleep is a critical part of brain health. Sleep can be tricky to manage; although many of us who are eating well, exercising regularly, and staying busy throughout the day are likely to sleep well each night. For others, behavioral strategies and/or sleep medicine specialists are useful resources.

Eat well, exercise regularly, and spend your days engaged in activities and your nights getting good sleep. Simple, right? However, just because something is “simple” doesn’t mean it’s “easy.” Most of us know, in general, how important it is to do these things yet most (all) of us fall short sometimes. Prioritizing and maintaining these healthy choices is hard work, especially if it's new to you. Rocket scientist or not, you can do hard things. Along with a set of attainable, and meaningful goals; a plan for consistency; a support system (this might include a neuropsychologist, family practitioner, family, and friends); and a method for staying accountable, you can take steps toward maximizing brain health.

*Please note that some people have a genetic predisposition for certain neurological conditions and these healthy lifestyle choices will not change that predisposition, nor will they reverse neurodegeneration. For more questions, please reach out to us or to your neurologist.


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