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Issue 97, June 2007
The following is adapted from article that appeared in' Headlines' - the National Newsletter of Neurological Foundation of New Zealand

The Healthy Brain Program

The Healthy Brain Program an initiative of the Australian Brain Foundation, aims to assist Australians to keep their brains healthy into old age through the provision of community education and research. While many New Zealanders will need no convincing that such a program is vital for Australians, the Neurological Foundation believes that it also could be beneficial for some New Zealanders.

The program addresses issues such as:
  • People are living longer and the prevalence of degenerative brain disorders is increasing.
  • There is little information available about how to keep the brain health compared to the wealth of information about a healthy body and heart.
  • There is a need for a coordinated approach to education on key indicators and risk reduction strategies.
The program aims to:
  • Increase community awareness of the potential for improving the long-term health of the brain through lifestyle changes and risk reduction strategies.
  • Promote recognition of risk reduction strategies.
  • Motivate the attitudinal changes needed for the development of a healthy brain lifestyle.
Pointers to a healthy brain
  • Exercise and challenge your brain - don't be a couch potato.
  • Nourish your brain with a healthy diet.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Enjoy physical activity
  • Make 'safety first' a priority - wear a helmet, drive safely and take any head injury seriously.
  • Learn to manage stress and depression.
  • Relax and sleep well.
  • Have regular checks for blood pressure, diabetes, heart rate and cholesterol.
Exercise and challenge your brain
  • Human mental decline typically begins before 40.
  • We must take measures to keep our brains in shape, no matter what age.
  • The brain needs exercise - practicing skills leads to better performance.
  • Unused parts of the brain stop working.
  • Challenging the brain with new activities wakes up new areas.
  • Try things you don't already do e.g. an accountant might study a new language.
  • Challenging creates new pathways that appear to become alternate routes when neurons die off in middle age.
  • Research suggests
    • reading to young children enhances mental development
    • ongoing mental stimulation provides some protection against mental decline.
How can you exercise and challenge your brain?
  • Exercising the brain is doing anything that makes you think.
  • Avoid using calculators - the 3rd R 'rithmetic - exercises the brain!
  • Swap TV for mind games (sudoku and crosswords) or a book.
  • Play games that involve memory (bridge) or thinking ahead (chess).
  • Take up a new hobby, learn a musical instrument, study a new language.
  • When you read a paper consider your own editorial.
  • Prepare for retirement as a time for 'serious leisure', for a hobby or activity that involves 'the whole being', mind and body.
Nourish your brain with a healthy diet
  • Like any high-performance machine, the brain needs top quality fuel.
  • Your brain needs a well-balanced low cholesterol, low saturated fat diet.
  • Timing is significant in nutrition; studies have demonstrated the importance of a good breakfast.
  • 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 then converts to the specific proteins it needs.
  • Your brain needs vitamins and minerals; they come from your diet.
  • Research suggests antioxidant 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?
Glucose is the fuel needed to keep the cells alive and functioning.
  • 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.
  • When your concentration wanes in the late morning or afternoon, eating a healthy snack, such as fruit, can solve the problem.
Enjoy physical activity
  • Exercise daily if possible; set exercise priorities and stick 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, if possible, although not too near bedtime.
  • 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 and escalators so you have to walk further.
Learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression
  • Anxiety increases heart rate and blood pressure and can leas 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 people suffer chronic stress - a long-term problem.
  • There is increasing evidence that stress 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 are known to 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: up to 12% of women are believed to suffer major depression at some stage.
  • 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.
When life becomes stressful do you
  • Meditate? Meditation may lower blood pressure, even when you are not actively meditation.
  • 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?
Relax and sleep well
  • 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 9 pm.
  • Don't go to bed until you feel sleepy.
  • Don't have caffeine after noon.
Acknowledgement: 'Headlines' Volume 75 Autumn 2007 - National Newsletter of the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand

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