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
- 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
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
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
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:
- Relaxing by actively tensing then relaxing individual muscle
- Channelling internal stress into external action through
- 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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.