The human brain, along with the spinal cord, constitute the Central Nervous System which controls virtually every single aspect of our existence. From communication to creativity, memory to messaging, balance to breathing, sleep to sensory function, digestion to discretion, every single physical or mental activity is initiated and executed by the brain. Needless to say, optimum brain health is indispensable for a good quality of life, at any age.
There is no textbook definition of brain health, although organizations such as the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Heart Association / American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) and various counterparts across the world have attempted it. These definitions recognize parameters such as cognition, discretion, memory, learn-ability and self-management as key indicators of brain health.
So what are the ailments or conditions that affect brain function and brain health? There are various neurological disorders that cause brain dysfunction and these are classified into 3 major groups:
- Structural damage: These diseases involve or show some form of damage to the brain structure. Examples include traumatic brain injury (caused by assault or accident), cerebro-vascular diseases (which involve damage or malfunction of blood vessels in the brain), brain tumour, sensory disorders, meningitis and communication disorders.
- Functional disorders: Here, one or more connections or networks in the brain are destroyed causing degeneration of brain tissue. Examples include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, addiction of any type, etc.
- Others; Here, structural or functional damage is not apparent. Examples include migraine and sleep disorder.
Also Read: Take this Headache Quiz to check whether your headache is a migraine.
Ageing and impact on brain health
Due to the complex interplay between physical and mental health, age has a clear impact on brain health. With age, the brain shrinks in volume, especially in the frontal cortex. Further, ageing blood vessels and high blood pressure increases the risk of ischemia, stroke and lesions. Memory and cognition may get impaired due to cessation of full-time work, causing atrophy of some areas of the brain. Genes, hormones, neurotransmitters, cultural and physical environment and many other factors influence age-related brain health issues. All these challenges are compounded by the fact that the mechanisms behind brain dysfunction in some of the neurological disorders mentioned above are still not well understood.
Also Read: Recognize the warning signs of brain tumour, save a life
Six Pillars of Brain Health
The above challenges have triggered curiosity and a large volume of research in the area of brain health. From this has emerged the ‘six pillars of brain health’ which are important guidelines for upholding mental health, at any age.
- Physical Exercise: Exercise is known to increase blood flow which provides enough oxygen to the brain. It also triggers the production of endorphins which reduce the sensation of pain and improve mood. Aerobic exercise, strength training, yoga, sports, tai chi, flexibility training or plain walking – the options for exercise are many.
- Food and Nutrition: With age, unhealthy diet choices, lifestyle and pollution have a more pronounced effect on the brain in the form of oxidation. This is very similar to oxidation of metal or rusting. There are various foods that are rich in anti-oxidants which help reverse this oxidation, and must be consumed regularly. A dietician can guide you on this. Cut down on smoking and alcohol consumption.
- Medical Screening: There are various conditions or habits that accelerate brain damage and induce dementia. Some of them are: diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, depression and obesity. Regular (annual or twice a year) health checkups will reveal such risks so that timely interventions can be done.
- Sleep and Relaxation: Sleep, a simple mechanism for recharging ourselves, helps improve immunity, mood and energy levels. It also helps reverse the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Stress Management is vital for relaxation and techniques include yoga, laughter therapy, meditation etc help.
- Mental Fitness: Staying mentally fit involves a little effort from your side, but it can be fun too. Indulge in crossword and puzzle solving, learning a new hobby like singing, dancing, a new card game or a new sport. Join a special interest or hobby group. Avoid routine and monotony in your daily life by making small changes from time to time.
- Social Interactions: Staying connected with friends and family is known to boost morale, improve memory, and increase cognitive abilities. Social Media and the Internet in general have made this easy. Also, getting involved in social causes and philanthropy are known to improve self-image and the feel-good factor.
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Karaikudi, Hosur and Salem, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
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