Case in point: At 92, my dad continues to ask me about people I may have introduced him to 20 years ago—he remembers every detail of their lives, where they come from, what they do for a living and the nationality of their parents. His long- and short-term memories are both in excellent shape. Perhaps it's good genes and fresh country air...or maybe it's that his brain is the most exercised part of his body these days. The brain, like the muscles in our body, must be kept active, and if it's not exercised regularly and given the nutrients necessary to keep it active and healthy, it's going to deteriorate.
Our diet has a huge impact on the brain chemicals that influence our thought processes, moods, behaviors, learning abilities, reactions and interactions. As well as nourishing the brain through proper diet and exercise, it's also important to consider factors that contribute to premature aging and brain deterioration. If properly cared for and given the fuel it needs to keep running smoothly, your brain should serve you well into old age.
Factors Influencing Brain Health:
- Exercise: As stated above, the brain needs to be kept active in order to be healthy. Read, do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, play Scrabble, learn a language—anything that stimulates the brain to think will help maintain it in optimum shape. Also, physical exercise and keeping the body fit and toned increases the flow of oxygen throughout the body and to the brain, and can promote the growth of healthy brain tissue.
- Diet and nutrition: Fast foods, refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, excess animal products and processed and refined foods all contribute to premature aging and brain deterioration. Sugar and simple carbohydrates that quickly convert to sugar in the body also deplete the body of minerals and nutrients vital to brain health.
- Coffee: Coffee depletes the body of minerals needed for brain health, interferes with sound sleep and causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which affects moods and contributes to brain fog.
- Poor sleep: Sleep is needed to regenerate the body, especially the brain, so it can function optimally. After periods of reduced sleep, neurons (nerve cells) may begin to malfunction, visibly affecting a person's behavior.
- Alcohol: I'm sure we've all experienced the effects of alcohol on our ability to think clearly at one time or another!
- Environmental toxins: Studies have shown that toxins such as lead, trihalomethanes (formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used in drinking water), ionizing radiation and tobacco smoke can cause damage to the brain, even at very low levels.
- Hormonal disturbances: A part of the brain known as the hypothalamus connects the endocrine system (the system that releases hormones) with the nervous system. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating basic needs such as sleep, hunger, thirst and sex, in addition to emotional and stress responses—another good reason to keep the brain healthy!
- Food sensitivities: The most common food allergens are wheat, soy, sugar and dairy products. Food intolerances can affect brain function, moods, learning abilities and many other body functions.
- Skipping meals: Eating smaller and more regular meals helps keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, which is important for proper brain health.
Get a list of the top 8 foods vital for brain health.