The Brain Health Lifestyle® (a term coined by Dr. Paul Nussbaum) has five components – physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, nutrition and spirituality. Each of these areas plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy brain.
If you want to build a lifestyle that supports your brain health, it is a good idea to begin with thinking about your motivation and goals. Where are you at with respect to brain health and more importantly…what are your goals for the future? In this post I’m going to review the five areas and give you some things to think about so that you can set goals in each area.
How much should you do to have an impact on brain health?
A recent study showed positive effects when individuals completed one hour of aerobic exercise three (3) times a week.
To get maximum effectiveness the aerobic exercise was done at 70% of the individual’s maximum heart rate. So to calculate that benchmark – you need to subtract your age from 220. That will give you your maximum heart rate. So if you are 80 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 140 beats per minutes or 14 beats in six seconds.
To exercise effectively, you should therefore be getting your heart to work at 70% of your maximum heart rate, which in the case of an individual who is 80 years old would be 98 beats per minute. (105 if you are 70 years old; 112 if you are 60)
Of course this is a benchmark – and you should check with your physician to determine if this type of exercise program is right for you – but if you are in good health, benchmark yourself against this requirement.
So – the question to ask yourself is ‘are you getting enough aerobic physical activity?’ And if not – why not?
Physical exercise is an excellent and effective reducer of cognitive decline … so get walking, swimming, dancing … at least three times a week.
A social brain has a higher potential of being a healthy brain. Research has shown that active social networks are a protective factor for cognitive function.
We are wired to connect to others – isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased risk for dementia. So it is important to nourish your social networks.
In a recent study, scientists found that spending ‘face’ time with family and friends reduced the rate of depression. It is interesting that in this study, phone calls and email had not effect on a person’s mental health but spending face-to-face time had a significant impact. Obviously human interactions that create a positive and supportive social network are vital to good mental health.
Engaging with the novel and complex on a daily basis promotes brain health. This includes learning something new, which actually involves a neurophysiological series of events that change our neural systems, our neural chemistry and our brain function. This process can also assist with new brain cell development (neurogenesis).
The important thing to remember is that novel and complex for one person may not be novel and complex for someone else – but it is still important to challenge yourself everyday. You may want to learn a new language, a new knitting pattern,, or dust off a musical instrument. The important thing is to find something intellectually engaging and challenge yourself with it.
There are lots of things that you can do but one area to think about challenging on a daily basis is ‘working memory’. Working memory is like the notepad in the brain, where you keep information long enough to use it. Like remembering the phone number long enough to dial the phone – or remembering directions long enough to find your way to where you need to go….working memory is a key brain function.
One fun game that you can do on your own to exercise your working memory is the N-back card game. Place a deck of cards face down on the table, turn up a card look at it and place it face down on the table. Repeat the process and every time you see a King or an Ace try and recall the card that was two cards before. You can make it simpler by trying to recall one card before the Ace or King or more complex by trying to recall the card that was three cards before the Ace or King. Either way – this is an excellent and simple way to exercise your working memory.
Nearly everything we put into our mouths is converted into glucose and absorbed into the cells of our body for energy. As the brain is the most demanding organ in the body, it will take nearly 25 percent of the energy from each swallow. Thus there is a distinct relationship between what we eat and the structural and functional integrity of our brain.
The Canada Food Guide suggests men and women over the age of 50 eat seven servings of fruits or vegetables a day. A guide serving for fruits and vegetables is:
- ½ cup of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables or fruit;
- ½ cup of 100% juice;
- 1 cup leafy raw vegetables or salad;
- 1 piece of fruit.
So if you want to challenge yourself in this area get seven elastics and place them on your left wrist. Every time you eat a serving of fruit or vegetables, transfer the elastic to your right wrist. At the end of the day, see if you have actually eaten a sufficient amount of fruit and veggies.
Other things to think about in the area of nutrition are the need to drink water, consume the right kind of fat, and have a sufficient amount of protein in your diet. You should also consider the question of supplements and we have a great blog post about that topic: Supplement … Not Substitute
The definition of spirituality used in the brain health lifestyle® encompasses all of your inner world and part of that inner world can be quite difficult – that part dealing with forgiveness.
It is easy for us to hold onto resentments and past hurts. But resentment is like chain smoking hate – it is incredibly corrosive to our inner selves. Forgiving – both yourself and others – is an important step to inner serenity and peace.
Reflect on this Chinese proverb:
You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.
So how do you react when something hurtful or sad happens? Do you hold onto it or let it go.Do you build a nest in your hair where the grievance can settle?
I remember once reading about a couple that was in very bad shape in their relationship. They each wrote a list of all the hurtful things that had happened and then the stood with arms around each other and burned the list….and in letting go of the hurts they were able to start again.
Are you able to burn your list?
This is one of those areas where it is helpful to have a bad memory. 🙂
Check Up From the Neck Up
So now read the following statements covering each area of brain health rate your level of satisfaction with each area using a 5 point rating scale, where 1 equals does not describe me at all and 5 equals describes me perfectly.
1. I have an active and satisfactory social life that is meaningful to me.
2. I get a variety of exercise at least five times a week.
3. I eat a well-balanced diet and drink at least six glasses of water a day.
4. I spend time in prayer or meditation each day.
5. I try to do something novel and complex every day.
Now choose one of those areas where you’d like to improve or make a small change for the better…and set yourself a goal. And if you want some motivation – read this post: Switch – How to Change When Change is Hard