Dr. Lorne S. Label

Article Summary:

Mental exercise can improve memory and build brain cells, and is as important to overall health as physical exercise.

Exercise For The Brain

When most people think of exercise, they envision working out to keep their bodies physically fit and healthy. But the brain - so important to living a full life - also needs an ongoing exercise regimen to stay agile and alert as we grow older.

Scientists used to believe that people were basically stuck with the brain they were born with and that individuals naturally began to lose cognitive function as they aged. This old thinking allowed people to accept memory loss as inevitable and believe that nothing could be done about it.

However, recent brain research has shown that the brain constantly renews itself, providing hope for those with cognitive decline. And, we now know that the brain can learn as much in the second half of life as it did during the first half. However, during the senior years this learning may require more repetition and it may take a little longer. The key is to give the brain a daily workout so that it will constantly generate new cells and neural pathway connections, thereby creating a higher level of brain functionality.

What can you do in your daily life to challenge your brain? Activities that stimulate thought and cause you to retain information as well as problem-solve are excellent activities. It could be as simple as daily hobbies like crossword puzzles, card games, reading, Sudoku number puzzles, or art projects such as painting. Even planning a vacation or learning about a foreign culture will require the brain to process new information.

More challenging activities for the brain would be mastering a foreign language or learning to play a musical instrument - both will cause the brain to work hard. The end result will enrich a person's life and help keep the memory sharp.

Good overall physical health is vital to good brain health. Be sure to get regular medical check-ups and follow your doctor's advice. Make sure that together you review all of the medications and supplements you are taking to avoid any drug interactions. If you have any memory concerns, don't delay, see a doctor immediately.

The brain will also benefit greatly by certain lifestyle changes that can make a tremendous impact. Constant stress, for example, can be a serious "brain drain" as can many underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease or a chronic illness. A prolonged lack of quality sleep will have a serious adverse affect on brain function.

Smoking isn't good for the brain - or for any part of the body. Also avoid drinking to excess and overeating. In fact, a poor diet is as bad for your brain as it is your waistline. Eat healthy, drink plenty of water and focus on a balanced diet.

Your brain and your general outlook on life will benefit from positive social interactions. To avoid depression and isolation, it's recommended that people have at least five meaningful social interactions each day. Take advantage of any opportunities to meet new people and stay in touch with friends and family. These important social interactions will help keep you alert and involved.

Finally, get moving. A brisk walk, an exercise class or a trip to the gym is essential for the brain as well as the body. Aerobic exercise increases the blood flow to the brain and will activate the repair formation and growth of brain cells. Regular exercise is one of the best activities for helping to maintain and improve brain function.

So, the next time you think of a workout, remember to include the brain. The overall health goal is to keep people physically healthy and mentally alert for as long as possible, so the quality of life is at its optimum.

Dr. Lorne S. Label (MD, MBA, FAAN) is the founder and director of the Brain Longevity Center in Thousand Oaks, California. A board-certified neurologist, Dr. Label is trained in both traditional Western and Eastern medicines and incorporates complementary techniques into his practice. Dr. Label writes and speaks on the subject of brain health and how to keep the mind active, sharp and agile as one ages. For more information, visit www.brainlc.com or call 805-497-7274 or toll free at 888-3BRAIN3.

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