October 16, 2008

A User's Guide to Lifelong Brain Health

By Dr. Simon Evans

"To keep the body in good health is a duty...otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear." - Buddha, circa 500 B.C.
As the Brain Fitness industry continues to gain momentum, and people explore all the incredible brain-training tools being developed, we hope that enthusiasts don't take their eye off the importance of the physical health of the brain and all the systems it communicates with. The brain is unique in that it houses our cognitive and emotional capacities in the form of the mind. It is a 'cognitive' organ that hungers for stimulation from new experiences and challenges. Many brain fitness programs strive to satisfy this need.

Yet the brain is also a physical organ that plays by many of the same rules as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. To stay healthy and perform optimally it requires quality nutrition, physical activity and optimal sleep. The brain, especially, relies on a healthy vascular system to efficiently deliver oxygen and key nutrients and remove waste. In fact, the brain uses approximately 20% of the oxygen we breathe to satisfy its high-energy demands. Given that the brain only weighs about 2% of the body, we can consider it an energy hog and we must cater to its needs very carefully.

Nutrients play key roles in brain function. Several have shown efficacy in clinical trials treating cases of mood disorders, cognitive decline and of course benefiting the physical health of the brain. Nutrients are both the raw materials employed in creating new neural connections and important components in regulating the activity of genes involved in these processes. Specific nutrients involved in mitochondrial efficiency, the energy factories of brain and body cells, are particularly important for many aspects of brain function. Other nutrients are involved in the inner workings of neuronal membranes, responsible for ensuring that electrochemical signals, which make up our thoughts, transmit efficiently and reliably.

Finally, antioxidants, important throughout the body, are especially important in the brain due to its high energy production rates and concurrent high capacity for free radical leakage. Keeping this in mind, it is readily apparent that nutrition provides the building blocks for our brain's structure and function, and therefore cannot be ignored.

Exercise is a clearly established component for promoting brain health as well. No longer can we think that the brain is completely separate from the brawn. Human studies have shown the value of exercise in controlling stress and maintaining positive mood states; in improving cognitive function, including performance on memory and executive tasks; and in improving the brain's two-way communication streams with the rest of the body. Some of these benefits are likely due to the positive effects of exercise on neurovascular health, which parallel cardiovascular health. Other benefits seem due to increased grey matter in 'front office' functions of the cortex; and neuronal birth, or neurogenesis, in the hippocampus, a brain region that controls aspects of memory and mood regulation.

Whatever the mechanism, giving your body a workout will produce substantial benefits in terms of brain health. Remember, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and your brain and body will be together your whole life.

Read More Here: http://www.sharpbrains.com/

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