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Get The Facts

Steps to a Healthier Brain - Fact Sheet

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Rehabilitation

Steps to a Healthier Brain - Fact Sheet

The Healthy Brain Program is an initiative of the Brain Foundation, aiming to assist Australians to keep their brains healthy into old age.

  

Exercise and challenge your brain

Like our body the brain needs exercise. Practising skills leads to better performance whereas unused parts of the brain stop working. Also ongoing mental stimulation provides some protection against mental decline. Challenge the brain by trying things you don't already do - such as studying a new language. Challenging creates new pathways that appear to become alternate routes when neurones die off in middle and old age. Keeping the brain active also protects individual neurons from injury and old age. Just remember if you have a brain injury to take on tasks that are realistic. If you have trouble with judgment you may need to discuss it with others first.

 

So how can you exercise and challenge your brain to reap the benefits? Exercising the brain is doing anything that makes you think, such as "what did I do last Saturday?"

 

Some possibilities are:

  • Avoid using calculators
  • Swap TV for mind games or a book
  • Play games that involve memory (bridge) or thinking ahead (chess)
  • Take up a new hobby

 

Nourish your brain with a healthy diet

Like any high-performance machine, the brain needs top quality fuel - a well-balanced, low cholesterol, low saturated (animal-fat) diet. Timing is significant as studies have demonstrated the importance of a good breakfast.

 

Not all fats are bad for you in the right quantities. Unsaturated fat and protein are 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 that only come from a balanced diet. In particular research suggests the anti-oxidant vitamins E and C protect the brain.

 

Avoid excess food. Reducing calories can help slow age-related brain changes. If you must smoke or drink caffeine and alcohol do so in moderation.


Glucose is the fuel needed to keep the cells alive and functioning. When your concentration wanes in the late morning or afternoon, eating a snack containing sugar, such as fruit, can solve the problem.

As a general rule, good nutrition for the body is good nutrition for the brain.

 

Enjoy physical activity

Exercise daily if possible by setting exercise priorities and sticking 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 that can act like antidepressant medications.

Exercise in the evening after a stressful day. Take exercise opportunities like using stairs instead of elevators.

 

Make "safety first" a priority

Brain trauma is the silent epidemic. The major causes of adult head trauma are motor vehicle accidents, on-the-job accidents, falls, assaults and sports injuries. Take common-sense safety precautions including wearing seatbelts and sports safety helmets as appropriate. Remember that if you have an existing brain injury you are much more susceptible to acquiring another one.

 

Manage anxiety, stress & depression

Anxiety increases heart rate and blood pressure which can lead to stroke. Acute stress such as the "flight or fight reaction" is normal and short-lived.


There is increasing evidence that stress actually damages the brain. The hormones linked to stress 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 which is crucial if you already have a brain injury.

 

One of the toughest stresses is depression. It affects memory, slows brain metabolism and can lead to some degree of brain damage. Some strategies for coping are: 

  • Meditation
  • Relaxing by actively tensing then relaxing individual muscle groups
  • Channelling internal stress into external action through exercise
  • Let go of things outside your control
  • Ensure a balance of work and recreation
  • Let go of things 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 leads to fatigue, immune suppression, memory, concentration and mood disorders. Optimal learning cannot take place against a background of poor sleep.

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 useful strategy is preparing for sleep:

  • Don't take one last look at email messages
  • No phone calls or activities after 9 pm
  • Don't go to bed until you feel sleepy
  • Don't have caffeine after noon

 

Check your blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol.

If you have diabetes and high cholesterol, you have 4 times the risk of stroke. If you have diabetes you have twice the risk of stroke. Experiencing many mini-strokes can lead to dementia in later life.

 

 

Avoid alcohol & other drugs if possible

Alcohol and other drugs affect the central nervous system and in varying degrees, impair a person's ability to think clearly and control emotions and behaviour. These abilities are often impaired by an acquired brain injury and therefore when people use drugs and alcohol they are likely to experience even greater problems with alertness, memory, problem-solving and controlling their behaviour and emotions.

See our Alcohol and Drug Use After ABI Fact Sheet for more information.



 

References and further information

Many thanks to Brain Foundation for their kind permission to condense an article from Brainwaves, Newsletter of the Brain Foundation, Autumn 2003. You can visit their website at: http://www.brainaustralia.org to read the complete article and a wide range of other information. Their email address is: info@brainaustralia.org.au.

 

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