Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Yen Ying Lim, Research Fellow, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

This is part of our series on Changing the Brain, about what’s happening in our brain in various mental states and how we can change it for the better and worse.

Our life expectancy has increased dramatically over the past several decades, with advances in medical research, nutrition and health care seeing us live well into our 80s. But this longer life expectancy has also come at a cost, as the longer we live, the more likely we are to develop neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

Despite the lack of treatments for these diseases, there’s now a growing body of research to suggest there are a range of lifestyle changes we can adopt to help enhance our brain function. And even prevent brain disease.

Exercise

The effects of physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, on brain health have been well studied. There’s now evidence to suggest engaging in physical activity can improve brain health through a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. This is where brain cells can more easily respond to disease or injury.

Physical activity can induce a cascade of biological processes that improve function of brain regions responsible for memory, and things such as decision making.

In particular, going for a run or bike ride (as opposed to only strength exercises such as weight training) have been shown to increase levels of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor”, a protein central to the growth and survival of brain cells. Brain imaging studies are also starting to confirm exercise training can result in a bigger hippocampus (the brain region responsible for memory) and improvements in memory.

Just as protein shakes may help muscles grow after exercise, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor may help to strengthen and generate brain cells. This in turn can increase the brain’s ability to cope with injury or disease.

We can change our brain and its ability to cope with disease with simple lifestyle choices Exercise strengthens our brains as well as our muscles. Kyle Kranz/Unsplash

Meditation

Over the past decade, there’s been an explosion of interest in meditation and mindfulness as a treatment of mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety.

Some studies have suggested long-term engagement in meditation is associated with physiological brain changes (such as larger brain volumes and higher brain activity).

But the extent to which meditation is associated with better memory, or with long-term protection against brain diseases, remains to be determined.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is one of the oldest forms of psychotherapy. It is typically used as an adjunct treatment for pain, and a range of anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress. Recent studies show that during hypnosis, changes in brain activity are detected in brain regions that govern attention and emotional control.

One small study (18 patients) suggested hypnosis substantially improved the quality of life of dementia patients after 12 months, with patients experiencing higher levels of concentration and motivation. But this result is very preliminary, and requires independent replication with larger numbers of patients.

It’s likely hypnosis plays an important role in reducing stress and anxiety, which may in turn improve focus, attention and wellbeing in general.

So what works?

The challenge with studying the effects of lifestyle changes on brain health, particularly over a long period of time, is the large degree of overlap across all lifestyle factors. For example, engaging in physical activity will be related to better sleep and less stress – which also improve our memory and thinking function.

Similarly, better sleep is related to improved mood. It may make people feel more motivated to exercise, which may also lead to better memory and thinking function.

The extent to which we can truly determine the contribution of each lifestyle factor (sleep, physical activity, diet, social engagement) to our brain health remains limited.

But a wide range of lifestyle factors that are highly modifiable such as physical inactivity, obesity, chronic stress and high blood pressure can have far-reaching effects on our brain health. After all, it is mid-life high blood pressure, obesity and physical inactivity that can increase our risk of dementia in later life.

Recently, a large study of 21,000 American adults aged over 65 suggested the prevalence of dementia fell significantly from 11.6% to 8.8% (nearly a 25% reduction) over 12 years (from 2000 to 2012). The researchers suggested this decrease in prevalence may be due to increases in education and better control of risk factors for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

This provides some hope that we can, to a certain extent, take charge of our brain health through engagement in a wide range of beneficial activities that seek to improve mental function, improve heart health, or reduce stress.

It’s never too early to start investing in the health of our brains, particularly when these lifestyle changes are easily implemented, and readily accessible to most of us.

If you are interested in being a part of a study on brain health in middle-aged Australians, please join us at the Healthy Brain Project.

Authors: Yen Ying Lim, Research Fellow, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

Read more http://theconversation.com/we-can-change-our-brain-and-its-ability-to-cope-with-disease-with-simple-lifestyle-choices-91699

Writers Wanted

We vibrated earthworms to learn about safely connecting human brains to computers

arrow_forward

The 2020 NZ election saw record vote volatility — what does that mean for the next Labour government?

arrow_forward

Melburnians will soon be able to have 2 visitors per day. It's far riskier than an exclusive bubble

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Important Instagram marketing tips

Instagram marketing is one of the most important approaches for digital advertisers. If you want to promote products online, then Instagram along with Facebook is the perfect option. After Faceboo...

News Co - avatar News Co

Top 3 Accident Law Firms of Riverside County, CA

Do you live in Riverside County and faced an accident and now looking for a trusted Law firm to present your case? If yes, then you have come to the right place. The purpose of the article is to...

News Co - avatar News Co

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion