Brain Health

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Brain Health

Brain Health

“Everything we do, every thought we’ve ever had, is produced by the human brain. But exactly how it operates remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries, and it seems the more we probe its secrets, the more surprises we find.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

March 11 to 17 is Brain Awareness Week 

Learn more about your brain health and help to raise awareness for brain-focused diseases, disorders, and injuries. 

The brain is a fascinating organ. Did you know: 

  • It contains about 86 billion nerve cells called neurons. 
  • The human brain is the largest among all vertebrates relative to body size. 
  • It comprises about 2 percent of a human’s body weight. 
  • It is protected by the cranium (skull) which is made up of 22 bones that are joined together. 
  • Parkinson’s is caused by deterioration of the basal ganglia leading to loss of abilities in the area they once controlled – voluntary motor movements.   

The Australian Brain Foundation is offering free live webinars, brain health resources, articles, and patient stories to mark Brain Awareness Week. Information and registration are available here 

Many people, living with Parkinson’s or not, worry about potential cognitive change as they get older. But you can take steps to keep your brain as healthy as possible. Researchers have not yet proven ways to prevent or slow cognitive change, but what’s good for your body is likely good for your brain. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, drink alcohol in moderation and avoid cigarettes.

Here is some practical advice and reminders:

Like any high-performance machine, the brain needs top quality fuel.

  • Your brain needs a well-balanced, low cholesterol, low saturated (animal-fat) diet.
  • 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?

  • 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
  • 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.
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones
  • Meet new people and meeting
  • Join a Parkinson’s Support Group. Call Parkinson’s NSW for more information about a Support Group close to you 1800 644 189.
  • Take part in research
  • Play “brain games” online
  • Do crossword or jigsaw puzzles (get a group together so you can socialize too!)
  • Learn to speak a second language or
  • Play a new instrument
  • Take up a new hobby
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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

Related reading:

Six minutes of daily exercise can boost brain health

3 herbs and spices to boost brain health

Handy Resources:

The Centre for Health Brain Ageing (CHeBA) is an international centre of excellence in multidisciplinary research into the ageing brain and various aspects of cognitive disorders.
They have a range of activities and booklets you can view online or download.
Go to this website Better Brain. Better Life Booklets


Brain Foundation
Centre for Health Brain Ageing
Michael J Fox Foundation