There is a growing body of research in scientific circles as well as in the general media about brain function and healthy brains. There is a lot promised by various products and a lot we simply don’t know about how the brain works. We are learning but it is a work in progress with a long way to go. I have always loved the analogy of what we know about the brain, compared to a book. However if we didn’t know how to read or truly understand the wealth of information held within a book, we would puzzle at this object’s function and purpose. We could describe it, weigh it, dissect it and analyze its composition. But wee would not understand how to use or benefit from its inner treasures. That’s about how much we know about how the brain works.
Reliable studies have recently informed us that many of the supplements and vitamins that comprise a multi-billion dollar industry essentially do little for us other than lighten our wallet. In particular, gingko for memory and DHEA, two popular supplements readily available provide no help in enhancing memory or other cognitive functions. There remains some promise for folic acid, omega-3 and synapse xt omega-6 fatty acids may help long term brain health but it will be some time before we have definitive answers. Thus far, if history is any help, promising results from preliminary studies or intuitive speculation has more often not panned out with beneficial results. We have been discovering with supplements that they are either of little benefit or some how they are not utilized in the body the same way as when these same nutrients are ingested as naturally occurring substances in the foods we eat.
What we do know is that the brain continues to be a marvelously elegant computer that has greater capacity than we ever imagined. It also is able to adapt and evolve with much greater capacity after injury, illness or even aging than previously thought. The idea of “brain plasticity” is a relatively new concept implying the brain’s ability to change in response to stimulus or need when challenged.
What this means is the brain is much like the rest of our body. It is able to grow, evolve and repair as we age if we do some maintenance. Granted we may need more maintenance as we mature, but the old adage of use it or lose it, applies.
Here’s the part you probably have heard before: Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. Why do you keep hearing this? Because it’s true and it’s important! Reducing stress and practicing mindfulness helps think more clearly. Living more in present time without being unduly distracted by yesterday’s problems or tomorrow’s challenges allows one to focus on the task at hand. These past experiences good and bad, are wisdom and experience, not to be forgotten. However, being distracted from the present interferes with clear thinking. Staying cognitively active means exercise your mind! Do something that is mentally or emotionally challenging. I don’t recommend bungy jumping. I’m talking about pushing yourself to read more. Be more social with other people. Make new friends. Volunteer someplace. Do cross word puzzles. It’s never too late to enjoy lessons for a musical instrument. Keep a journal; write poetry or the next great American novel. Laugh…a lot. Enjoy your day but try to challenge yourself a little each day. These are clearly the things that improve your quality of life and your mind.