The brain is our body’s most complex system. It is involved in everything we do. When the brain works right, we work right. When it doesn’t, trouble ensues. An unhealthy brain leads to lower cognitive and physical functioning, an increase in depression, and a worsened memory. People with unhealthy brains are generally sadder, sicker, less intelligent, less motivated, and less successful. Today’s post will explore the ways one can support their brain health.
Let’s begin by discussing what causes your brain the most harm. Brain injuries are some of the more well-known ways you can mess it up. Playing football, combat sports, or hitting a soccer ball with your head can cause severe damage (oftentimes long-term), so consider picking up a new sport. In addition, what we put in our bodies will either benefit us, or harm us with toxins. A highly inflammatory diet with lots of sugars, processed foods, and trans fats (which is unfortunately what most Americans eat everyday) is detrimental to your brain and body alike. Obesity has been shown to damage brain function, and studies have concluded that as weight goes up, the physical size and function of the brain go down! So, another great incentive to stay in shape. Drugs, alcohol and smoking are not good either; alcohol is toxic to brain function, and smoking constricts blood flow to the brain. Stress and constant negative thinking, too, areto be avoided whenever possible. The brain will become accustomed to this line of thinking, and will physically change as a result. Finally, a few other factors worth mentioning are environmental toxins, diabetes, high blood pressure, and lack of sleep- all detrimental to overall health.
In order to promote brain health, here are things that can actively be done to change its structure and function: The first is to improve your social connections. I like to call three people a day and get involved in local communities and clubs (school, extracurricular activities, religious groups). I set such commitments to create consistency around connection. Not only has this made my life significantly more fulfilling, but research shows it also improves brain health. Continuously educating oneself and learning new skills have also shown to be beneficial. When not in school, focusing and getting better at learning a language, playing chess, working on your jumpshot (without having the basketball fall on your head) or working the cross word puzzle are all great ways to stimulate the mind. Academic literature has also linked meditation and gratitude practices to healthy brains. Writing a daily gratitude list has been a game changer in my life, and I highly recommend adding this practice to your daily routine. I often need to get out of my own head and remind myself that I have a good life (I forget it all the time). It helps combat the negative self talk mentioned in the previous paragraph. Meditation, in turn, will help with stress. Finally, removing nasty habits mentioned in the last paragraph, and creating a healthy lifestyle with diet, exercise, and sleep is crucial to the brain and body.
I find it both frightening and empowering that I have so much control over my brain health. But it makes sense. Just like a muscle, the brain over time can get stronger or weaker depending on our actions and environment. Changing habits can be hard and intimidating– it still is for me. But getting rid of (or adding) certain habits from my routine, little by little, has created bigger changes in the long term. Even if you decide to commit to meditating every day for only 30 seconds, you are telling your body and your brain that you care and are making an effort. And as you continue, your brain will become accustomed to that effort and way of thinking, and make it progressively more manageable for you. I hope this helps. See you next time.
Amen, D. “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” TED, Jun. 8 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLKj1puoWCg
Nall, Rachel. “Brain Damage: Types, Causes, and Symptoms.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 Dec. 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-damage.
Sui, Sophia X, and Julie A Pasco. “Obesity and Brain Function: The Brain-Body Crosstalk.” Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania) vol. 56,10 499. 24 Sep. 2020, doi:10.3390/medicina56100499