What is brain health and why is the brain important?
Brain health impacts every area of life. There’s just one problem: What exactly IS brain health?
Interest in brain health tends to rise as we get older and we begin to worry about memory problems and cognitive decline. But brain health is the foundation for a thriving life at every age, influencing your education, relationships, career, and personal sense of fulfilment and happiness.
Despite the crucial role it plays in our lives, brain health continues to be an ambiguous term for many people: What is brain health? Today, let’s explore precisely what it is—a brain health definition, how it’s measured, and why it matters—plus five things you can do today to improve your brain health.
Brain health: Why is the brain important?
Numerous studies have linked various aspects of brain health with an improved lifespan, exemplifying how brain health is the literal foundation for your overall health. For example, one study found that people whose brains were able to process information quicker, had faster reaction times, and lived longer.
Enough to convince anybody of the importance of brain health - but there's more.
A healthy brain improves coordination and motor function
Balance, coordination and mobility issues (and the resulting falls and injuries that occur when your coordination and motor function slows down) often starts in the brain. Researchers have found that improving brain health can even lead to improvements in balance and coordination.
The healthier your brain, the better you’re able to cope with life’s problems
Three out of four Brits report feeling so much pressure in the past year that they've felt completely overwhelmed, or like they could no longer cope with their challenges.
A strong, healthy mind is more resilient to this pressure. And it’s not just about feeling more relaxed and at ease.
Chronic unmanaged tension typically leads to unhealthy coping habits like smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, overeating, etc.
A healthy brain guards against memory loss
Laying the groundwork for a strong, healthy brain today helps to protect yourself from memory loss and brain health problems in the future. The healthier your brain, the lower your risks of age related illnesses, and other brain health problems that directly impact your quality of life and your longevity.
A healthy brain supports your goals, passion and happiness
Maintaining a healthy brain isn’t just about living longer or being healthier. It’s also about being happier.
We all desire a life that feels full of opportunity, vitality, social connection and happiness. A healthy brain offers cognitive benefits (e.g., better memory, higher levels of creativity, improved problem solving, and clearer thinking) and emotional benefits (e.g., better self-awareness and better emotional regulation) that can help you to live your best life in every way possible.
Obviously, brain health matters. There’s just one problem.
What is brain health?
"Currently, there is no universally recognised brain health definition," explains a wide-ranging report published a few months ago in the British Medical Journal.
But while various health organisations and agencies might have slightly different ways of talking about brain health, they all agree on some common brain health traits: Do you have the level of cognitive, emotional and behavioural functioning that you need to navigate life successfully, feel healthy, and accomplish your goals?
Or do you find your thinking muddled and your learning and memory impaired?
The importance of brain health
“The brain is a complex organ and has at least three levels of functions that affect all aspects of our daily lives: interpretation of senses and control of movement; maintenance of cognitive, mental, and emotional processes; and maintenance of normal behaviour and social cognition,” explains the BMJ. “Brain health may therefore be defined as the preservation of optimal brain integrity and mental and cognitive function at a given age.”
Braincare can help you to do exactly that.
How do you keep your brain healthy?
If you want a healthy brain, it’s time to invest in braincare. You don’t need to have a neurologist on speed dial to implement these simple, practical braincare ideas and protect, or even improve, your brain health.
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1. Focus on your cardiovascular health
Your brain health is directly linked to your heart health. Poor blood circulation and restricted blood flow to your brain can lead to brain cell death and brain injury.
Improve your overall cardiovascular health, and you'll improve your brain health and ensure your brain is getting all of the oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood it needs for optimal performance:
Eat a heart-healthy diet. Some diets that have been well-researched to enhance your cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of stroke include the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and plant-based diets (both vegan and vegetarian).
Get your blood pressure under control if you have high blood pressure. Unhealthy blood pressure levels are strongly associated with poor brain health and an increased risk of cognitive decline in later life.
Cut back on alcohol. And, if you smoke, try to kick the habit.
2. Get more rest
There’s a reason that rest is one of Heights’ 10 pillars of braincare. Your brain works hard all day, and giving your brain a break has been shown to boost your focus, improve mental performance, and even assist in complex problem-solving.
Find ways to take a mental break throughout your day, especially if you’ve been focused on something that’s mentally fatiguing. Go for a walk in nature. Do some meditation or yoga. Or better yet, take a nap.
Sleep is incredibly powerful for brain health. It’s during sleep that your brain heals itself, eliminates toxins that might have built up throughout the day, and moves information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.
3. Engage the brain
Staying mentally and socially engaged helps generate new brain cells, builds new neural connections, and boosts your overall brain performance. Try learning something new, ideally in a social setting.
This might include taking dance classes, enrolling in a painting workshop, or playing a new team sport. Not only will you boost your brain health, but you’ll also elevate your mood and reduce loneliness and social isolation (feeling socially isolated is a risk factor for poor brain health).
4. Exercise for a few minutes every day
Researchers have found that exercise lights up all parts of your brain, improves cognition and may even increase the size of the parts of your brain associated with learning and memory.
Aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. You don’t need to be a gym rat—walking the dog, gardening, or playing with your children all counts and helps to keep your brain strong.
5. Take brain-savvy supplements
Last but not least, invest in braincare supplements. Known as nutritional psychiatry, researchers have identified numerous ways that your nutrition fuels (or sabotages) your brain health.
Well-known vitamins, minerals and nutrients that support optimal brain function in all key areas of brain health include:
Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E
Essential minerals like chromium and zinc
Omega 3 EPAs and DHAs
And many more
How can I strengthen my brain?
So you know how to improve brain health - but can you actually strengthen your brain? A good way might be to try mental workouts, like:
Learning new skills
Teaching skills to others
Brain training exercises
By doing these activities often, you may find that your brain sharpens and strengthens in some areas.
How to check your brain health
Think beyond online IQ tests or going off of your own self-diagnosis.
Every aspect of your life; from focus and performance to sleep, energy, outlook, and longevity is impacted by your brain. You don’t want to leave this up to chance.
Assess your brain health and braincare with our free 4-minute brain health assessment created by Dr Tara Swart, neuroscientist and our Chief Science Officer at Heights.