Better Brain Series, Part I: Shrinkage, Expansion and Marbling Marble Tending The future of a healthy brain lies in decreasing shrinkage, preserving your existing marbles and growing neurons. Here are a few considerations:
s we age cognitive decline becomes a foremost concern. Every time the keys wander off, we are forced to confront questions about the health of our marbles and if they are going to last us into old age. The brain is the three-pound organ made mostly of water and fat. It has a billion neurons that send signals throughout the body to create action, inaction, form and function. In school you learn that we only use 10% of our brains, and that the brain only grows until adulthood—both lessons are incorrect. Research now shows that we use most of our brain, and it can grow and renew until the day we die.
Brain Shrinkage A foremost concern in brain health is shrinkage. The more the brain shrinks, the more we lose our marbles. Changes to our internal and external environment can cause shrinkage. Four main health risks that impact most lives either directly or by extension were studied by the University of California at Davis and several others: Smoking, diabetes, being overweight or obese, and high blood pressure. Researchers found that people as young as 35 years old with any of the four risk factors developed a condition in which areas of blood vessels in the brain became damaged and shrank. Interesting to note that the risk factors of cognitive decline also appear to be the same for heart disease. The heart and head appear to decline together.
Expanding the Brain When it comes to brain expansion, exercise is key. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, strengthens connections between
blood vessels and cells, and enhances the growing environment. Studies have shown that distance running can be one of the best ways to create neurogenesis (brain growth) in the area of the brain that accounts for memory and learning, the hippocampus. At the University of British Columbia, researchers identified that aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus. In other studies running
The future of a healthy brain lies in decreasing shrinkage, preserving your existing marbles and growing neurons. was compared to interval training, weight lifting and other forms of exercise. Nothing compared to running to spark hippocampus growth by double or triple. The positive effects of exercise on the brain appear to include slower endeavors too. In 2010 the University of Pittsburgh followed exercise and brain size of 78 year olds over nine years. They then compared brain sizes with the amount of walking done per week by each adult. Those who walked an average of 72 blocks or more per week increased areas of signaling and processing in the brain. They also had reduced episodes of cognitive decline after 13 years.
1. Sugar and Carbohydrate Intake: If you have not reduced or eliminated foods that spike insulin unduly, here is another reason why it may be considered. One study in Neurology (64(10):1704-11) published in 2006 says high HbA1c glucose testing numbers were associated with decreased brain volume. Individuals with a higher median level (5.6 percent) experienced rates of brain atrophy that were twice as high as those in the lowest HbA1c level (4.4 to 5.2%). Those in the “high” bracket had smaller brains. While exercise can help moderate glucose in the blood by using it up, nothing can save your brain from a diet too high in carbohydrate. 2. Exercise: Healthy brains need exercise. One reason it may work so well to enhance the brain is identified in the October 2011; journal of Physiology & Behavior. This study shows that brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) secretion increased with aerobic exercise. This protein gets produced more rapidly during exercise and leads to the development of new neurons in the brain, aids survival of neurons already there and speeds-up their signaling to enhance cognitive function. Lack of BDNF has been seen in Alzheimer’s patients and other brain deteriorated states. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans identifies that we should aim for between 20-25 minutes a day of something moderate (with a few sessions of weightlifting in there to sustain mobility and build muscle). Walk, run, skip, it’s all going to help preserve your three-pound mound from shrinkage. Cognitive decline can be mitigated and even reversed. Next month we will continue with foods to enhance brain power. Nothing in the article constitutes medical advice, all medical advice should be sought from a medical professional. Emily Reiblein
Crowley Maritime Corporation, Labor Relations-Union Wellness Programs/ Operations Integrity
June 2018 // Marine Log 9