The Healthy Brain Program
The Healthy Brain Program, an initiative of the Brain Foundation, aims to assist Australians to keep their brains healthy into old age, through the provision of community education and research.
The program aims to address issues such as:
- People are living longer, and the prevalence of degenerative brain disorders is increasing.
- There is little information available about how to keep the brain healthy compared to the wealth of information about a healthy body and heart.
- There is a need for a coordinated approach to education on key indicators and risk reduction strategies.
The program aims to:
- Increase community awareness of the potential for improving the long term health of the brain through lifestyle changes and risk reduction strategies.
- Promote recognition of risk reduction strategies.
- Motivate the attitudinal changes needed for the development of a healthy brain lifestyle.
Pointers to a Healthy Brain
Exercise and challenge your brain – don’t be a couch potato
Nourish your brain with a healthy diet, drink alcohol in moderation
Enjoy physical activity
Make “safety first” a priority – wear a helmet, drive safely, take any head injury seriously
Learn to manage stress and depression
Relax and sleep well
Have regular checks for blood pressure, diabetes, heart rate, cholesterol
Do not smoke or use illegal drugs
Exercise and challenge your brain
Click on the image for page by page of
15 exercise to get your brain in shape.
- Human mental decline typically begins before 40
- We must take measures to keep our brains in shape, no matter what age
- The brain needs exercise. Practising skills leads to better performance
- Unused parts of the brain stop working
- Challenging the brain with new activities wakes up new areas
- Try things you don’t already do – an accountant might study a new language
- Challenging creates new pathways that appear to become alternate routes when neurones die off in middle and old age.
- Research suggests
- Reading to a small child enhances mental development
- Ongoing mental stimulation provides some protection against mental decline
How can you exercise and challenge your brain ?
- Exercising the brain is doing anything that makes you think, such as “what did I do last Saturday?”
- Avoid using calculators
- Swap TV for mind games or a book
- Play games that involve memory (bridge) or thinking ahead (chess)
- Take up a new hobby, learn a musical instrument, study a new language
- When you read a paper, consider your own editorial
- Prepare for retirement as a time for “serious leisure”, for a hobby or activity that involves “the whole being”
Take advantage of The Brain Food Factory's free monthly newsletter. It is designed to exercise all aspects of your brain with crosswords, sudoku, visual games, trivia quizzes, word games, mazes, a children’s section, and more. Visit www.brainfoodfactory.com for more information.
Nourish your brain with a healthy diet
Like any high-performance machine, the brain needs top quality fuel.
- Your brain needs a well-balanced, low cholesterol, low saturated (animal-fat) diet.
- Timing is significant in nutrition. Studies have demonstrated the importance of a good breakfast.
- Protein and unsaturated fat is especially important for developing brains. Fish, a rich source of both, is sometimes called brain food.
- Your body converts long strings of amino acids in the protein you eat to individual amino acids that your brain converts to the specific proteins it needs.
- Your brain needs vitamins and minerals; they come from your diet.
- Research suggests anti-oxidant vitamins E and C protect the brain.
- Avoid excess food. Reducing calories can help slow age-related brain changes
- Enjoy caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
- As a general rule, good nutrition for the body is good nutrition for the brain.
What energy source is essential for the brain?
Glucose is the fuel needed to keep the cells alive and functioning
- Your liver, pancreas and kidneys work together to maintain the right level of glucose in your blood
- Your blood supplies glucose to your brain at a steady rate
- The glucose provides the energy to enable brain proteins to build cells, produce chemicals for nerves to communicate and to repair damage
- When you concentration wanes in the late morning or afternoon, eating a snack containing sugar, such as fruit, can solve the problem
Enjoy physical activity
- Exercise daily if possible. Set exercise priorities and stick to them.
- Regular exercise reduces depression and reduces cardiovascular risk factors, even a simple walk lets you think freely
- Some exercise states may produce euphoria, but even 12 minute bouts of exercise (to 85% maximum heart rate) release serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline (like taking Prozac)
- Exercise in the evening after a stressful day, rather than early in the day
- Take exercise opportunities- climb stairs (up to three floors) instead of taking the lift, schedule in regular five-minute walking breaks, park your car away from lifts, escalators so you have to walk further.
Make “safety first” a priority
- Head trauma is the silent epidemic
- Major causes of adult head trauma is motor vehicle accidents, on-the-job accidents, falls, assaults and sports injuries
- Take common-sense safety precautions including wearing seatbelts and sports safety helmets as appropriate
- Road deaths are publicised but not the number permanently disabled
- Head injury from snowboarding is on the increase
Learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression
- Anxiety increases heart rate and blood pressure and can lead to stroke
- Acute stress – “flight or fight reaction” – is normal and short-lived.
- The brain produces substances that tell many organs of the body to speed up and perform more effectively, then it returns to normal.
- Some suffer chronic stress - a long-term problem.
- There is increasing evidence that stress actually damages the brain.
- The mechanism for this is thought to be the brain’s response to hormones that increase during periods of stress.
- These stress hormones can actually kill nerve cells in animals and are thought to do the same in humans.
- The steps you take to reduce stress are likely to preserve nerve cells and help maintain mental abilities.
- One of the toughest stresses is depression.
- 5-12% of men and 10-20% of women will suffer major depression at some stage.
- Major depression is not just sadness or grief, it is indescribably painful.
- Depression affects memory and slows brain metabolism.
- Major depression can lead to some degree of brain damage, affecting memory.
- Major depression is a medical emergency.
When life becomes stressful, do you ?
- Meditate? Meditation may lower blood pressure, even not actively meditating
- Relax? Actively relax by tensing then relaxing individual muscle groups
- Exercise? Channeling internal stress into external action can relieve stress
- Ensure there is a balance of work and recreation in your life?
- Let go of things that are outside your control?
- Take time out for yourself
- Visit your general practitioner
Relax and sleep well
- During deep sleep, the brain repairs itself and boosts the immune system.
- During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain consolidates information learned during the previous day.
- Poor sleep or sleep loss leads to fatigue, immune suppression, memory, concentration and mood disorders. Optimal learning cannot take place against a background of sleep debt.
- Seek help for sleep apnoea as it increases the risk of stroke.
What can you do if you can’t get to sleep?
The most common causes of difficulty are not being able to shut off the anxieties and worries of the day and preparing for tomorrow’s problems.
- One way you could help is by preparing for sleep:
- Don’t take one last look at email messages
- No phone calls, business, late-night news, planning for tomorrow after 9pm
- Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy
- Don’t have caffeine after noon
- Have regular checks for blood pressure, diabetes, heart rate, cholesterol
- If you have diabetes and high cholesterol, you have 4x the risk of stroke
- If you have diabetes you have 2x the risk of stroke
- Lots of mini-strokes can lead to dementia in later life
Do not smoke or use illegal drugs
Research suggests that
- smoking in later life can promote mental decline
- regular use of ecstasy results in deterioration in memory and recall skills
- ecstasy can cause damage to the brain cells that help control movement as well as emotional and cognitive responses and the ability to feel pleasure
- speed can cause memory and motor control damage.