The human brain has been described as the command centre for the nervous system and enables thoughts, memory, movement, and emotions by a complex function that is the highest product of biological evolution. (2) Maintaining a healthy brain throughout life is an important goal in order to strive for health and longevity. As we age, the risk of neurological disorders increases, as do the challenges in keeping our brains healthy.
How can I keep my brain healthy?
There are a number of ways to keep your brain active and healthy. Learn a new skill, download an app specific for brain health (meditation or brain training games), do a puzzle, learn a new language, exercise, the list is endless!
What can I learn? –
There is a plethora of things that you can learn to do to keep your brain active.
Short courses, workshops, digital technology, brain activities such as crosswords or jigsaw puzzles. Get involved in Adult Learners week by joining an event. Have a look at different resources available via the Adult Learners website.
You can also check out the online resources at The Brain Foundation.
There are so many apps available for you to download to your device and start using straight away. How do you know which are the best ones? Here are a few to try out (some of these are even recommended by VicHealth and the Black Dog Institute) (4):
Anxiety & Mental Health:
Nutrition Tips for a healthy brain
Did you know that what we eat can affect our brain health? There is emerging research into the gut-brain axis, a bi-directional communication system between the gut and the brain. It can even be possible to improve your brain health by changing the bacteria in our gut. (3)
Nutrients that affect cognition (1):
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – improves cognitive decline in the elderly, after traumatic brain injury and in Alzheimer’s disease. Sources include salmon, chia, flaxseeds, kiwifruit, butternut, walnuts.
- Curcumin – improves cognitive decay in Alzheimer’s disease and after traumatic brain injury. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric.
- Flavonoids – improves cognitive function in the elderly. Combined with exercise, flavonoids can help to improve overall cognition. Flavonoids are found in cocoa, green tea, Ginkgo tree, citrus fruits and dark chocolate.
- B vitamins – supplementation with vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or folate has positive effects on memory performance in women of various ages. Sources include whole grains (brown rice, barley, millet), meat (red meat, poultry, fish), eggs and dairy products, seeds and nuts (such as sunflower seeds, almonds), dark leafy green vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach), fruits (such as citrus fruits, avocados, bananas).
- Vitamin D – preserves cognition in the elderly. Most vitamin D is derived from sunlight, but food sources include fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified products, milk, soy milk, cereal grains.
- Vitamin E – improves cognitive decay n the elderly, and can help to improve cognition after traumatic brain injury. Food sources are asparagus, avocado, nuts, peanuts, olives, seeds, spinach, wheatgerm.
- Choline – high dietary choline is associated with improved cognition. Dietary sources include egg yolks, beef, liver, chicken, veal, turkey.
- Antioxidants – including Vitamins A, C, E and carotene, delay cognitive decline. Antioxidant sources include a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables (oranges, berries, beetroot, avocado, kale, red cabbage, dark chocolate, beans, spinach).
- Copper – cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease is associated with low levels of copper in the blood. Sources of copper include oysters, Brazil nuts, blackstrap molasses and cocoa.
- Iron – iron supplementation can normalise cognitive function in young women. Sources include red meat, fish, poultry, lentils and beans.
Foods that can hinder cognition include (1,5):
- Saturated fats – have been shown in research to promote cognitive decline in ageing people. Sources of saturated fats are butter, ghee, suet, lard, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, dairy products (cream, cheese) and meat.
- Calcium – high levels of calcium in the blood have been associated with faster cognitive decline in the elderly. Sources include dairy products, tahini (sesame seeds) and broccoli
- Zinc – reduction of dietary zinc assists with reduction of cognitive decay in the elderly. Food sources include oysters, beans, nuts, whole grains and sunflower seeds
- Selenium – low selenium levels over a lifetime is associated with lower cognitive function. Sources include Brazil nuts, meat, fish, eggs.
- Food high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats and processed foods can contribute to impaired memory and learning, as well as an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
- Alcohol consumed in large quantities can cause damage to the brain.
- Mercury found in some seafoods (think large fish high in the food chain) can be neurotoxic and can permanently damage developing brains.
There is a variety of different things we can do to keep our brains active – learning a new skill, using an app for mental wellbeing, and eating a nutritious, wholefood diet.
- Gomez-Pinilla F, 2008, ‘Brain foods: the effect of nutrients on brain function’ Nat Rev Neurosci, 9(7), viewed on 17 August 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
- Wang Y, 2020, ‘What is brain health and why is it important?’, BMJ2020;371:m3683, viewed on 22 August 2021, https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3683
- Robertson R, 2020, ‘The Gut-Brian connection: How is works and the role of nutrition’, Healthline, viewed on 22 August 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection
- Zielinski C, 2019 ‘Which wellness and mental health apps are worth it?’, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed on 22 August 2021, https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/wellness-and-mental-health-apps-are-they-worth-it-20190312-p513if.html
- Mandl E, 2018, ‘The 7 Worst Foods for Your Brain’, Healthline, viewed on 26 August 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/worst-foods-for-your-brain