The 5 Domains of Brain Health
For thousands of years humans have considered the heart as the center of the universe. Indeed, in deference to this idea Egyptian royalty was buried with all organs removed except the heart.
Our own society in 2012 continues this myth by relating many emotions such as love, hurt, grief and passion to the heart. We even have a holiday dedicated to the heart! Such tendencies have positive outcomes, as we have developed a keen understanding of the need to keep our hearts healthy. As a result, heart disease has plateaued.
Don’t you think the brain deserves the same high esteem and dedication? It is the single greatest, most magnificent system ever designed. This 2 to 4 pound miracle that sits within our skull is not only responsible for our every thought, feeling, and movement, it defines us. Comprised of nearly 60% fat and demanding 25% of the blood from each heartbeat, our brains call for renewed attention, and a little love.
Neuroscience has provided us a new understanding of the brain, which in turn has helped to unleash an entire new field of inquiry I refer to as Brain Health. The human brain, we now know, can generate new brain cells due to its “plasticity,” which is the ability of the brain to be dynamic, constantly change, and reorganize across its entire lifespan. This can lead to “brain reserve,” which is the process of building dense cellular connections. These, we believe, can help to delay onset of neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
What makes for a healthy brain? Animal studies have shown that environmental input is important to the health of the brain and to its processing ability. Research has identified specific behaviors and activities that promote the health of the brain, and fit within each of the five domains that I focus on in my Brain Health Lifestyle ® program:
- Physical Activity:
Our brains demand a significant percentage of the blood from each heart beat. As such, we need to be mobile and active animals for maximum brain performance. Physical exercise is a wonderful way for each of us to be active, and many studies have documented a relationship between exercise and emotional and cognitive health. Walk a mile a day, do aerobic exercise three times weekly, dance, swim, and do not sit passively for long periods of time.
- Mental stimulation:
Building “brain reserve” can be achieved by engaging in “novel and complex” activities at any age. Research shows the benefits of language, including sign language, reading, writing, travel, music, artistic creativity, crossword puzzles, board games, and online mental exercises (see www.fitbrains.com). This means we must continue to learn new things and continue to expose ourselves to new experiences.
We evolved as animals in need of connection, of living, eating, fighting and dying together. Socialization helped our brains grow and become more intelligent. This means we need to be involved in our community, our schools and homes. We need a “role and purpose” in life, without which we risk premature death. Consider remaining employed, or contributing in a personally relevant way your entire life. Do not isolate and segregate. Loneliness is not healthy.
We have always been spiritual beings. Today, the field of “neurotheology” is unlocking the benefit of prayer, meditation, and inner peace on the structural and functional aspects of the brain. We humans can use these practices as a means of reducing stress and enhancing emotional and cognitive health. Very stressful lives can slow learning, increase forgetfulness and promote inattention. It is important to identify what our stressors are and learn relaxation procedures, meditation, yoga, and/or prayer. Increasing our daily sleep can help, too, as many Americans are sleep deprived, which leads to emotional and cognitive problems. For 30 minutes daily, you should do nothing for the health of your brain!
What we eat affects the structure and function of our brains. We need to increase Omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally, we can get this from eating 8 ounces of fish weekly, such as salmon, herring, tuna, and sardines. For those who cannot satisfy this, you might consider a supplement. We also need to consume five fist-full servings of fruits and vegetables daily (antioxidants). Finally, cutting back on trans-fats, processed foods, and fried foods will help the brain process more efficiently.
Everyone can benefit from learning the basics of brain health and beginning a brain health lifestyle. There is no more important part of our body or being to help us maximize our potential than a cognitively and emotionally healthy brain. I have provided some of the basic information on brain health in this article. Are you read? Go ahead, get started today!