In honor of this year’s World Brain Day, we’re sharing four simple ways to nurture your own brain health every day.
This year, July 22 marks the 9th annual World Brain Day. Sponsored by the World Federation of Neurology (WFN), World Brain Day brings awareness to the importance of brain health and promotes prevention, advocacy, education, and access to resources and treatment.
In honor of this year’s theme, “Brain Health for All,” we’re focusing on ways education and awareness of brain disease can lead to better prevention and access to treatment. Below, we’ve outlined four simple ways you can prioritize your own brain health and support others who are dealing with brain disease.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Research has linked sleep disturbances, such as fragmented sleep or frequent night wakings, to an increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Additionally, studies have found that 41% of people with Parkinson’s disease experience REM sleep behavior disorder—in which they physically act out dreams—prior to their diagnosis.
Sleep is crucial to brain health both in quantity and quality. It’s a two-way relationship: Our brains and bodies regulate our sleep patterns, and sleep affects our brain health and body functions. When we get plenty of high-quality sleep, research shows that our brains may be able to prevent the toxic buildup of amyloid plaques, a protein found to accumulate in people with Alzheimer’s. Because of these findings, addressing sleep disturbances and managing circadian rhythms may help alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
The general amount of sleep recommended for adults is 7 to 8 hours per night. However, it’s also important to consider when you sleep. Daily shifts of light and darkness affect our sleep and wake cycles, circadian rhythms, and energy levels. A regular sleep-wake schedule and appropriate timing of light exposure, eating, and activity will help your body stay in rhythm and promote quality sleep.
Take Proper Precautions Against Head Injuries
Even when they might not seem severe at the moment, head injuries can contribute to a range of brain diseases and disorders. Brain and spine trauma can range from mild to severe and can contribute to the formation of more serious disorders later in life. For example, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disorder that has been linked to repetitive head impacts, even ones that do not result in diagnosable symptoms of concussion. Research has also found that Alzheimer’s disease could be caused by damage to the protective barrier in the brain.
Taking everyday precautions against head injury will help to protect your brain health. Steps like wearing a seatbelt or a helmet are important for preventing brain injury. When playing sports, be sure to follow all safety rules and make sure to have a concussion plan in place in advance. For children, use age- and size-appropriate car seats and ensure they are properly installed. You can also help prevent falls by using safety features like high chair straps and stair gates.
Incorporate Exercise Into Your Weekly Schedule
Maintaining a regular exercise routine is one of the most effective ways to promote brain health. While it has many benefits overall, aerobic exercise may activate beneficial genes in the brain and help with memory. Additionally, research shows that people who are physically active are less likely to have a decline in their mental function and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Doctors believe these brain health benefits are tied to the increased blood flow to the brain during exercise. This increased blood flow may also help counter some of the natural breakdowns in brain connections and functioning that happen as we age. For this reason, it’s helpful to choose physical activities that increase your heart rate, and build up to doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise multiple days per week. Aim for a total of at least 150 minutes per week.
Keep Your Mind Active
Think of the brain as a muscle: To keep it in shape, it’s important to stay mentally active. Hobbies and personal interests, social engagement, and learning new things can all have a positive effect on brain health. Engaging your brain in new ways—such as doing puzzles, reading, and playing cards—helps keep your brain active.
Our mental health and brain health are also connected. In fact, depression and stress may contribute to memory loss. Regular social interaction can help improve mental health and promote healthier ways of dealing with stress, so make time to connect with friends and family whenever possible, especially if you live alone.
Studies have also found that art and music therapies have multiple benefits for people who have already developed neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—in part because they help engage different areas of the brain. Activities like riding a bicycle, dancing, and boxing have been found to activate uplifting emotions and a sense of reward, generating positive effects and aiding in symptom management for people with Parkinson’s.
Some of the above everyday actions can play an important role in keeping our brains healthy and active. Beyond taking care of your own brain health, you can also make a difference by offering support to caregivers and family members of people living with brain disease. As World Brain Day recognizes, we have the power to positively impact brain health for ourselves as well as for others in our communities and around the world.
At the American Brain Foundation, we invest in research across the whole spectrum of brain disease. When we cure one brain disease, we will cure many. Donate today to make a difference. With your help, we won’t have to imagine a world without brain disease, we’ll be able to live in one.