LIVING HEALTHY – DR. JOHN KALB – It takes more than just doing crossword puzzles to keep your brain fit and healthy. Many people forget that the brain is a very sensitive organ that depends upon high levels of fuel and nutrients to do its job. What is the brain’s job? Creating our mind and running our body, of course. This article will explore the most important things you can do to support your brain and challenge your mind. It’s crucial that we act now to help slow and prevent premature brain aging and cognitive impairment.

I like to compare the brain to a garden and a muscle. Gardens need lots of light and just the right amount of water and nutrients in the form of fertilizer or compost. In the same way, our brain needs light to maintain our 24-hour cycle and plenty of vitamin D for optimum function and health.  Another key brain nutrient in short supply in the standard American diet is omega-3 fatty acids.  If you don’t eat cold-water fatty fish like salmon at least once or twice a week, then consider taking a fish oil supplement. Lack of water and essential nutrients can predispose us to mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, cravings, aggression, and even depression.

Our brain is also like a muscle in that it demands a reliable blood supply to deliver oxygen and fuel in the form of blood sugar. This is one reason why keeping the heart and the vascular system healthy is so important. Click to see symptoms of vascular disease and why you need to make an appointment with a vascular doctor immediately. We can also help our brain by keeping our blood sugar balanced: by eating a healthy breakfast, avoiding sweets, eating well-balanced meals, and not letting ourselves get too hungry. Our brain also responds like a muscle and gets bigger and stronger by being used. Yes, when we put demands on our brain by challenging our mind, the nerve cells create more interconnections, called synapses, and the pathways expand. The scientific term for this is neuroplasticity, meaning the actual structure of the brain is flexible and adaptable. We have the startling ability to support this process through our choices and what we focus our mind on. It’s even more exciting when we understand one of the greatest medical discoveries of the twenty-first century. It is called neurogenesis. Baby brain cells, or neural stem cells are waiting to be born to help rejuvenate our brain and enrich our lives.  This is contrary to centuries of belief, which held that the number of nerve cells is set at birth and goes into decline throughout the rest of our life.

Guess what the two greatest stimulants are to birthing these baby brain cells? The answer is exercise and new experience. That’s right, like a muscle, physical exercise stimulates new growth. In this case, it stimulates new brain cells to be formed and to interconnect functionally throughout the brain. Exercise is for everyone, no matter your current condition. Any physical activity is good and the more the better and the more intense the better. Just remember to keep it appropriate for you. In the same way that our muscles need rest after exertion, our brain needs seven to eight hours sleep every night.

We can literally reinvent ourselves even as we age, by exercising, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and challenging our mind with new experiences. Examples of this include, lifelong learning, meeting new people, pursuing new hobbies, learning a new dance or language, and traveling. So don’t just play the same old games over and over again. Pick up new ones and find a way to involve other people, especially new acquaintances. Stay mentally and physically engaged in life. Remember, the heart of aging well is brain fitness!

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